No coding class at your kid's middle school? This dad-run org wants to help - Technical.ly Delaware

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Jul. 9, 2019 6:45 pm

No coding class at your kid’s middle school? This dad-run org wants to help

Coderrific Academy officially launches in Newark and Middletown in the fall with extracurricular coding courses for students as young as 7.
Coderrific students Paul and Andrew building their own coding block in Scratch.

Coderrific students Paul and Andrew building their own coding block in Scratch.

(Courtesy photo)

Eight months ago, pharmacist and Wilmington University graduate student Jonathan Adly was looking for ideas for his MBA business plan. He was aware of how essential it is to keep up with technology. He’s also a dad.

“I have a 3 year old and was looking for something to enroll her in, and I ended up enrolling her in dancing class,” he said. “I’m sitting in the dancing class, and I’m like, ‘When will she ever use this? It’s cool and it’s fun and she likes it and I like it, but isn’t there something that she can get involved in and learn a skillset that would help her in her lifetime?'”

The resulting concept, Coderrific Academy, is an extracurricular coding program for elementary school, middle school and high school kids.

Why extracurricular? Code.org data shows that, while jobs in the computer sciences make up 58% of new jobs today (and those numbers continue to grow), only 35% of Delaware high schools offer computer science. And, for those that do, the classes are rarely intended to create expert coders.

As for options for elementary- and middle school-age students to learn coding? Coded by Kids, a Philadelphia-based organization that offers a growing number of programs in Wilmington, Cyber Streets in Dover, and Ground Up Computer Science in Newark all serve middle schoolers, but it remains an undeserved area with a lot of potential.

“It was feasible,” Adly said. He, along with cofounders Joseph Soryal and Quynh Nhu Dao, started developing the curriculum.

The classes will be small — only eight students — but the goal is not to be exclusive.

“We had a trial with kids who volunteered to learn and give us their feedback, and through a continuous process of teaching,” he said. “It’s designed as a program like karate, with the yellow belt, black belt. We hope that by the end of it you’ll be an expert. If you go through the first year, you’ll pick up very valuable skills, but it’s meant to be ongoing.”

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The “ongoing” aspect of the program allows kids to learn as tech evolves, and to get into more advanced tech like artificial intelligence.

Initially they envisioned opening a school in a set location. An advisor at the Middletown Small Business Development Center had other ideas.

“She said, ‘You know what, you shouldn’t get your own location, you should work with local organizations and rent a classroom from them,'” Adly said. “She reached out for me to a Middletown senior center, and they said, ‘Hey, we have this big building, we close at 4:30. You can have the building after if you want.’ They connected us to the Newark Community Center as well. Things just fell into place.”

Then there was the question of cost — and access.

“The first thing we did was send out a survey through social media to our extended network,” Adly said. “We asked, one, is this something you would be interested in to enroll your kids? And, two, what would be a reasonable price? Over 90% of those who responded said they would be interested. They put prices all over the place. We systematically figured out the median, which ended up around $100 a month [for four months] — which happened to be around the same price point for my daughter’s dance classes.”

The classes will be small — only eight students — but the goal is not to be exclusive.

“My wife is a middle school teacher,” said Adly. “One of the things that she expressed when I shared with her the idea is that if it was going to be in an exclusive neighborhood, it won’t serve everybody. So we aim to have one-third of our students to go on a full or partial scholarship.”

Instructors have two basic types of backgrounds: professional programmers who learn how to teach, and professional teachers who learn to code.

A beta class is currently being held, with the official launch happening in the fall, teaching:

  • Scratch, a foundational language that is easily taught to kids as young as 7
  • JavaScript, a project-oriented course where kids get to build their own website

Next spring, they plan to add a cybersecurity course, and Coderrific’s three-year plan includes classes in Python, Swift and the fundamentals of AI. Classes will be offered in Newark and Middletown, and the team plans to add Wilmington before long.

Seats are very limited. To register or sign up for one of the free trial classes offered in August, click here.

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