Every Monday afternoon, for eight weeks on the East Side of Wilmington, elementary school kids would excitedly climb off the school bus and run straight to another classroom on E. 10th Street for another two hours of learning.
In the computer lab at Lazarus Educational Services Inc. (LESI) headquarters, these 8-to-11-year-olds were learning beginner coding and other creative STEM skills. They could do so thanks in part to a grant from Delaware’s Foundation for Science and Math in Education (DFSME).
The program, CodeMosaic, came together after its cofounders, Deanna Bledsoe and Dr. Rosie Tooley, were connected through their mentors at the Small Business Development Center. Bledsoe, founder of Kai Coders, and Tooley, founder and director of LESI, hit it off instantly. Plans for a youth coding program at LESI came together before they applied for the DFSME grant.
“We actually were into the program for several weeks by the time we even found out we got the grant,” Bledsoe, a 2022 RealLIST Engineer, told Technical.ly.
Having additional resources is always welcome on the East Side, once the cultural and economic center of Black Wilmington that became a victim of devastating urban planning decisions in the late ’60s from which the city is still recovering.
Solutions for violence
The seven graduates from the inaugural CodeMosaic program each created a program that answers the question, “What makes you feel safe in Wilmington?” Solutions for violence in Wilmington is the focus of a second grant the program received, which made it possible for each participant to receive their own Chromebook, backpack and art supplies. These materials allow them to continue creating on their own now that the program is done.
The students’ works will be on display for the public at the Wilmington Library on Monday, Nov. 6 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. as part of the CodeMosaic STEAM Project Showcase. The event, whose theme is “Hear Our Voice,” will feature the students’ project demos.
“You’ll see a variety of different things — some students did some coding but they didn’t complete everything,” Tooley said to Technical.ly. “Other students went the whole gamut and you will be able to see not only their art but an illustration of what their solution is. And it has voice recordings and their own voice explaining what is happening in the image, and you’ll see their sprites moving about and showing different things. One student even made her exhibit interactive.”
With the first run finished, Tooley and Bledsoe plan to continue with a more advanced class for the “pioneers in the neighborhood” who completed the first program, as well as more of the original program, with dates expected in 2024.
When the founders were looking for kids to join the program earlier this fall, they knocked on doors, hung out in parks and brought flyers to Bancroft, the public elementary school on the East Side.
“They welcomed us with open arms,” said Bledsoe. “They were so welcoming. And we had our fliers, we’re like, ‘We’re looking for kids for our CodeMosaic program.’ And they were like, ‘Well, we want the program here. How do we get it here?’ And so they connected us to United Way who runs their after-school program.” Talks with the United Way are underway.
While some kids older than the program’s current maximum age of 11 are interested in participating, the elementary age focus is intentional and important. K-5 programming classes are not just for creating future computer scientists (though there is a definite aim to get East Side kids into Delaware’s tech talent pipeline). They’ve also been shown to help elementary-aged children problem-solve and learn hard and soft skills that will help them through the rest of their schooling.
“So maybe [in middle or high school] they’ll say, ‘You know what, I had fun with that in fifth grade. Let me try it again,'” Bledsoe said. “That’s what I’m hoping.”
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