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Code Nation NYC Launches Spring Tech Academy, An Innovative Virtual Program

Since its inception in 2012, Code Nation has built bridges between students from under- resourced high schools and careers in the tech industry. Historically, we have accomplished this by fostering relationships between students and software engineers, organizing workplace experiences at major tech companies, and encouraging creative expression through code. In the fall of 2019, Code Nation NYC began a partnership with leaders at Williamsburg High School for Art & Technology and the St. Nick’s Alliance to design an in-person Summer Tech Academy: a program that would give students the opportunity to explore the intersections of coding, creativity, and diversity in an applied fashion. The summer program would also provide students with industry mentors, as well as weekly guest speakers offering career advice and discussing technology and social issues, like privacy and artificial intelligence.

When the global coronavirus pandemic hit, along with the resulting stay-at-home orders, our STA team adjusted their course of action with the results exceeding all expectations.

“We call ourselves ballerinas after pivoting and pirouetting through this unprecedented moment….These past six months and especially the past four weeks have been intense, but they’ve been a true labor of love for everyone involved. We’ve enjoyed working with highly invested school leaders, equally vested community based partners, wonderful volunteer program mentors, and of course, our brilliant and talented young coders.”

– Robert Bonner, Managing Director, Code Nation NYC

Two months ahead of schedule, and after several programmatic course corrections due to massive social change. Code Nation NYC and partners unveiled a virtual pilot program they called The Spring Tech Academy (STA). The STA Program began in May as a 4-week intensive that provided students with an opportunity to build highly-interactive apps together through a remote coding environment, called Glitch. The program also provided students with program mentors from the tech industry and Code Nation company partners. The STA approach has allowed students to learn coding, collaboration, and professional skills in an intimate-yet-remote setting that has proven to be highly valuable given the constraints of the current reality of remote work and schooling. Read on to learn more about the details of the program and our plans for summer expansion.

Technical Skills

During the four weeks of STA, student learning centered around industry-aligned technical skills. Each week, students dove deeper into JavaScript and P5.JS (a JavaScript library) and completed interactive labs to master their skills. Over the course of the month, students coded three projects that built off of their JavaScript knowledge while allowing them to be creative and explore their interests. Teams of students learned and utilized Glitch, a collaborative coding environment that is conducive to learning and working remotely. In only four weeks, STA students studied functions, variables, data types, conditionals, loops, arrays, objects, and JSON/APIs. They also used an innovative approach to scoping and sequencing their learning, called the “Weekly Challenge.” Each Monday through Wednesday, students would learn key coding concepts for the week. On Thursday and Friday, students would work in teams, along with several program mentors, to design a project using those concepts. Finally, STA would close out Friday sessions with student team presentations of final apps with the help of program mentors.

Professional Skills

Each week, students were coached and mentored by these same professional software developers serving as program mentors. In small project groups, students were able to spend several days networking and relationship building with the volunteer Program Mentors in order to mimic on-the-job coaching experiences. Additionally, through weekly project presentations, students practiced not only essential public speaking skills, but learned best practices for effective communication in a virtual setting. 

Culture, Community, Creativity, Conversation, and Code

One of the primary goals of Spring Tech Academy was to allow students to explore their interests at the intersection of technology, creativity, culture, and social change. To that end, students learned about S.T.E.A.M. and the ways in which technology has become essential to creating art, music, games, and design. Students also participated in weekly Tech & Society conversations, where they read articles and discussed the many ways that technology and society influence one another, along with their implications for being an informed “net-citizen”. These innovative Tech & Society discussions were attended by both students and program mentors, and covered topics like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data privacy, diversity in tech hiring, and more. 

Final Projects & Showcase

In the final week of STA, during the virtual STA Student Showcase, student teams eagerly presented their final projects to a virtual audience of peers, teachers, mentors, families, school and district leaders, and Code Nation staff. Over 40 adults attended the showcase to celebrate the hard work and accomplishments of the first ever STA cohort. 

For their final project, all teams completed a team-based project that asked them to creatively use data sets in developing a functional final app. Each of the three teams was given a different dataset, based on their interests: comics, music, or the stock market. Students were then tasked with creating a website or application that used information from JSON (a lightweight format for data storage) to create an aesthetically pleasing and highly-functional presentation of data. Teams were challenged to include at least one For loop and to present at least one data property in a format other than text (e.g., color, shape, sound, etc). During final presentations, students explained the vision for their projects, walked through their actual lines of code, demonstrated their work, and expressed their ideas for future iterations of their websites. The audience was able to see both the apps and their lines of code side-by-side. It was amazing. Finally, a panel of esteemed judges asked questions and presented our teams with awards and achievement badges.

Awards & Badges

Data Award: Team Comic

Most Creative Interpretation of Theme Award: Team Sunset

Best Overall Presentation: Team Music

Looking Forward

Because of the hard work of our team, collaboration with our wonderful partners, and especially because of the enthusiasm and creativity of our talented students, Spring Tech Academy was an overwhelming success. We are thrilled to roll out the program this summer (July 20 – August 14) for our first-ever Summer Tech Academy. In partnership with WHSAT and St. Nicks Alliance, we will offer this second iteration of the virtual program to nearly 100 students from several participating NYC high schools. We look forward to continuing to build (virtual) bridges between schools and students in New York City, and the tech industry at large.  Our collective future depends on it.

Get Involved

If you are interested in partnering with Code Nation’s Summer Tech Academy, please reach out to Lia Tisseverasinghe, Senior Partnerships Manager, at lia.tisseverasinghe@codenation.org