The Wednesday afternoon Intro to Web Development class, one of two weekly Coderrific Academy classes offered at Christina Cultural Arts Center (CCAC), was anticipated to be small this week, with nearby Kuumba Academy and Great Oaks Academy schools closed due to coronavirus concerns.
By 4:15 p.m., the room was full of kids aged 7 to 15 ready to learn how to create a web page.
The 10 laptops Coderrific brings each class for students to use usually covers all students. But today, with unexpected new faces, instructor Noah Cedeno asked a couple of first-timers to pair up with students who have been taking the class since January.
Imagine that — a no-school day, and these mostly middle school-aged kids were practically lining up to learn to code at the downtown after school resource HeArt Under the Hoodie, a program for at-risk youth.
Coderrific Academy founder Jonathan Adly is accustomed to growth. He founded the extracurricular youth coding school just over a year ago as a solution when he couldn’t find a similar extracurricular program for his daughter. What started out in the spring of 2019 in a room at Newark Community Center grew into a school with its own location in Newark by September, as demand grew.
So far, it also has three partners, at which Coderrific runs six classes on-location: CCAC, Wilmington Montessori and Las Américas ASPIRA Academy in Newark.
Classes are tuition based, but are offered for free via Heart Under the Hoodie, which has been offering a variety of free programs, including music, drama, dance and student enrichment, for nearly five years as an initiative to help curb violence in the community. A combination of grants and need-based discounts have made the coding classes possible.
“A lot of the kids in our community live in poverty,” said Shysheika Edwards, education director for CCAC. “If we want to effect change on a greater level it has to be free.”
The Coderrific partnership is the first coding class HeArt Under the Hoodie has offered; Edwards and CCAC program manager Virginia Shepherd decided last summer to add a STEM component to the program.
“It provides an avenue for them to understand technology,” she said. “It introduces them to a market that they probably had not been introduced to before. And, with technology advancing at the rate that it’s advancing, they need to be prepared.”
Adly says he’s seen the program have an impact on the kids.
“These kids get a huge confidence boost, because when they see they’re doing these things, they feel like they can do anything,” he said. “Not only can they build a website, they’re like, ‘I learned this supposedly very difficult thing that everybody told me I wouldn’t be able to do, and now I’m doing it and I’m good at it.’ That unlocks so many other things in their future.”
Cedeno, a game designer and Wilmington University student, led Wednesday’s class, going over the code step-by-step as the students worked on building a Wiki-style web page on a topic of their choice. Once the class settled in, Cedeno had their full attention. Instructor Nicholas Costley, a computer science major at University of Delaware, was on the other side of the room, watching the work on students’ screens and helping when needed.
Most, even the younger ones, didn’t seem to need much extra help. The intro level, Adly said, is a “building block” level that can be taught to young children along with reading and writing and basic math: “Right now we have first-year college classes teaching coding that can be learned by children,” he said.
“What we’re teaching are real skills they can use,” Adly said. “Think about the average summer job for a teenager, compared to being able to do a freelance website.”
Coderrific Academy’s next move is to open a second location, thanks to seed investment funding, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Adly also hopes to open a location in an Opportunity Zone in Wilmington, if funding can be secured.
The school is currently looking to hire a web dev instructor, and has plans to hire more in the future.