Codestarter delivers laptops to San Francisco 6th graders

Last week Codestarter delivered our first set of 36 laptops to the 6th graders at St. Paul’s School in San Francisco.

Until now, Codestarter has only partnered with after-school and extracurricular programs, including CoderDojo and Mission Bit. Our partnership with St. Paul’s marks Codestarter’s first involvement with schools. In many ways, we view this first year of operation as an exploration of which types of partnerships will enable us to fulfill our mission best.

At St. Paul’s, we knew immediately that Irene Nolan, the school’s technology teacher, would be the perfect ally in our mission to empower more kids to build their futures through learning to code. In her application letter, Irene explained, “Many of the students are old San Francisco families, whose parents and grandparents went to the school, but have been forced out the the area due to high rents.” She estimates the student population to be 45% Hispanic, 35% Caucasian, 15% Asian, and 2% African American.

Irene continued, “Technology is rapidly changing the neighborhood. The google bus and other tech buses drive by our doors each day.” These are students who see the benefits of technology all around them, and want to be able to participate. Irene has worked with her students as best she could with limited resources, and was proud to share, “I have engaged students in diverse projects, from making fabric and paper card circuits to making robots. Our school was the only elementary school in the Bay Area with an exhibit booth at San Mateo’s Maker Faire.”

On the day our Codestarter team delivered laptops, students ran into the school’s library and sat at tables like wiggly puppies in front of the boxes they would soon get to open. Ripping open of boxes soon commenced; cardboard and papers flew, and squeals of delight rang across the normally quiet library. One girl cried out, “My laptop has a sharkey!”—referring to the shark sticker on her laptop, which was generously sponsored by Digital Ocean. Techstars and Code Climate also donated laptops for this classroom’s batch. Other laptops were paid for by individual donations through the Codestarter website.

What stuck me most during this 90-minute period (45 minutes per group of students), was the extreme willingness of the kids to help one another. We worked together as a group to set up the language preferences, wifi, serial numbers, and take photos to send to donors, but over and over I noticed students leaning over to their classmates and saying, “Here, try this!” Or, “Let me read the serial number, and you type it.”

One shy boy stood over to the side of the room. He gingerly pressed keys, worrying that he would mess up. “I don’t want to break it,” he confided. I spoke with him quietly, talking through each step, and he slowly entered his name and location and then took several photos, redoing each one that didn’t quite suit him. At the end, he asked if he would get to keep the laptop. “You’ve already applied and received this laptop on loan,” I reassured him. “Play with it. See what you can learn. In a few months if you still want to keep learning to code, you can take it home, and it’ll be yours to keep,” I said. “It’s that easy?” he challenged. “Yup!” I said with a wink, and I turned to help another student.

Nearly every student at St. Paul’s in 3rd through 8th grade who qualified for financial aid has applied for a Codestarter laptop. So far, Codestarter donors have already supplied 5th and 6th graders but we need more help from the tech community and other interested supporters in order to get laptops in the hands of the remaining students. If you’d like to help with a donation, go here: https://codestarter.org.

How can Codestarter best reach kids who are interested in learning to program - like those at St. Paul’s, but who can’t afford their own laptops? We track all of our laptops and follow up with students quarterly, so that over time we’ll be able to understand better which educational settings result in students’ continued interest in coding. Look for that data to be published on our website as we collect it!

We’re always on the lookout for talented developers, designers, and writers, so email us at info@codestarter.org if you’d like to get involved.