Delaware County Daily Times: Chester Housing Authority targets Chester children for technology boost

Chester Housing Authority targets Chester children for technology boost
By Rick Kauffman, Delaware County Daily Times
July 11, 2016
Original Article

The Chester Housing Authority is offering new lunchtime learning sessions that invite children to learn more deeply about the phones in their pockets to gain deeper understanding of the tools that automate much of the modern world.

This summer the CHA has introduced curriculum for children under 18-years-old to learn the basics of coding, practicing on desktop computers in Google Docs and similar online-based applications, the kids will eventually learn the deeper nuances of computer programming.

Five days a week, at the Ruth Bennett Homes Community Center, children are occupying the hot summer months not on the street, but spent in the air conditioning with food for their stomach and food for thought.

“What we are doing is nothing new, we didn’t reinvent the wheel, we just made it fun,” said Norman Wise, director of the Public Housing Department.

“A lot of these kids have cell phones in their hand, but they don’t know how that cell phone works when you go onto some of those games, what they’re doing (is learning) why, that’s what code is,” Wise said.

Between three CHA Community Centers complete with computer labs — Ruth L. Bennett Homes, William Penn Housing and Booker T. Washington Community Center — between 45 and 50 children visit each site daily for a free hot breakfast and lunch.

And between those meals, the children learn.

At the Ruth L. Bennett site, students are taught by 19-year-old Jacob Demree, a Swarthmore College student who has taken courses in computer coding, studying HTML, CSS, Javascript and discrete mathematics, however when he declares a major he plans to study medical anthropology.

He believes that much of the younger generations that have grown in a world immersed in technology where they are passive participants rather than active and engaged users.

“The beautiful thing about technology is that it can be used as a tool rather than just as a media form or something to play on,” Demree said. “I’m trying to teach them that anyone can use technology, and that everyone can be on level ground and speak their voice.”

Raised by teachers himself, Demree said the greatest challenge has been finding where to begin — “they’re geniuses” he said — and found through studying programs that were introduced in schools in Mt. Laurel, NJ that starting with Google Drive was a good, common medium to begin.

“I’ve been developing a curriculum to teach students, especially elementary school students, about computers, computer literacy and computer science,” Demree said. “I’m teaching them how to use Google Drive and eventually to use computer science and code on computers.”

In addition to using the computers, the kids are granted greater social skills by interacting with their classmates. One of their first assignments was to interview a fellow student and create a profile for them using text and images. They beamed with delight after seeing their works of art printed off and displayed.

“It’s really bridging the gap between the internet technology and the physical environment,” Demree said. “It’s going to be a whole summer of being together, I don’t want everyone to remember the summer of computers.”

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