By Ben Lindenbaum
When my Fieldston High School classmate Omega Zerfu and I first introduced our computer coding elective at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center’s after-school program last fall, we were immediately swamped by 15 enthusiastic students. For the next hour, these elementary and middle school students peppered us with questions – most of them about how to code their favorite video games.
Programming for All grew out of the years I spent volunteering as a tutor with the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s afterschool program. Between that experience and then learning about the vast gap in computer science education in public schools, where resources are limited, I decided to start the organization. Many schools, particularly elementary and middle, do not offer any coding classes at all. That seems unthinkable in this computer age, and my hope is that, by introducing more students to the basics at an early age, some will be encouraged to pursue the important field of computer science.
In creating the program, I sought advice from a range of education experts, including those at the Pittsburgh-based STEM Coding Lab as well as at Reading Partners, a children’s literacy non-profit organization. With their guidance, I developed a set of introductory computer programming lessons, which I taught at the Morningside Heights branch of the New York Public Library last summer. After receiving positive feedback, I invited other high school students to join me in expanding the program. In addition to the Morningside Heights, Beacon at Goddard Riverside and Kingsbridge programs, we have also partnered with the West Side Commons, teaching more than fifty elementary and middle school students. Our team of eleven high school teachers, from both Fieldston and Riverdale Country School, is now expanding the lessons beyond its initial eight sessions.
The students are not the only ones enjoying the lessons. Nikash Das, a co-president of Programming for All who teaches at Goddard Riverside, recalls how a student used the lessons to create a computer program that would make Argentina’s flag, in honor of the World Cup. “One person started making flags and then the other kids came around and watched and used that as inspiration to make their own. That was a pretty nice moment,” said Das.
Programming for All welcomes more volunteer teachers, and we are always looking for opportunities to work with new organizations. If you are interested in working with Programming for All or would like to learn more about our program, feel free to contact us here.