Their eyes were glued to their screens while they inputted numbers from one to 100 into their computers on March 4 at the Freeport Memorial Library’s Coding for Kids program, which teaches basic coding skills and computational thinking to middle school students.
The program presented by Amazon Future Engineer and To Bring More, Inc., TBMI, is an eight-week program for students in sixth through eighth grades. The class teaches basic syntax, object-oriented development and other professional programming languages. Students use Scratch, a free online website that provides free programming language where students can create their own interactive stories, games and animations to get hands-on experience learning to code.
TBMI’s Taisha Francis, program director, from Freeport and Monique Powell, and president, from Hempstead, lead the classes and provided the students with one-on-one support to learn how to properly input codes to solve coding problems. Bringing the program to the library, Francis, also Freeport resident, said providing coding classes to local children was a personal way for her to tap into the community and teach coding to students outside of the traditional classroom setting. She also said the library was the best place to host the program, because of the expansive number of activities it already hosts. Teaching students coding, Powell shared, is something she and Francis do together without any employees from TBMI.
“I wanted to do it here,” Francis said. “because it touched Freeport, Bellmore and Merrick.”
The group consisted primarily of teen boys with their own laptop. Francis and Powell guided them through step-by-step math concepts to create their games, along with fundamental coding concepts. During a breakout session students who were struggling with coding were given additional one-on-one time with instructors.
Sixth grader, Kai Richberg attended the coding class for the first time on Monday. He said he found coding really fun. “I like how it goes really in depth and you can create different games,” he said.
“A lot of them are first timers, and [by the end of] the first day, you would’ve thought they were doing this for a really long time,” Francis said. “They sit down and connect to it and [for some] this is only the second class.”
A seventh grader, Frailyn De Jesus openly talked about his ambitions to become an engineer during class. When he first started the classes, he struggled to understand the concepts and admits “it was really confusing.”
“I didn’t know that it would turn out to be really fun,” De Jesus said. “Coding is math maybe it’s going to help me with my career.”
Francis admits she was worried about De Jesus’s trouble to grasp the concepts of coding language and afraid he would not come back. “I love to see that he’s still taking on the challenge, he’s not saying he can’t do this,” she said. “He’s saying- “all right let me keep learning.”
Powell said she thinks people underestimate kids and if school principals were able to see what these middle schoolers were doing, they would be amazed.
“My main goal is to integrate STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, education to all students in Nassau County, that’s where this started from,” she said. “We have a non-profit organization in the county, serving all students.”
As a former administrator for a charter school in New York City, Powell said she researched programs that would provide instruction to children of all ages. Through her research, she learned that Amazon launched a program for STEAM partnering with Coding.org, who have been known to form partnerships with local organizations like TBMI. Deciding to apply to become an Amazon STEAM program partner later resulted with sponsorship and launch of TBMI’s community programs in Freeport and Roosevelt.
“The programs that are available to students, some of our parents can’t afford it,” Powell said. “When Amazon sponsored us we were able to offer this program for free.”
According to Powell, Amazon is paying for approximately 10 students to participate in the workshops. Programs like Coding for Kids, can cost a family close to $130 to $180 per student.
“I want them to see that it can be fun too, and it’s not just work, work, work,” Francis said.“I’m glad they know this is something of the future that can help their careers.”