Chester Housing Authority

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The Spirit: CHA expands summer food program to include computer coding for kids

The Chester Housing Authority's (CHA) summer food program, now in its third year, is adding a valuable educational component this year – computer coding lessons, geared especially toward elementary school children.Since its launch in 2014, the summer food program has attracted more and more Chester families each year and is expected to serve more than 10,000 meals this summer. 

CHA executive director Steven A. Fischer determined that the program afforded a perfect opportunity to help kids learn the basics of coding."Code is used in everything we do today involving any kind of computer technology, and the idea here is to get these kids involved in something that they most likely have experience with but aren't even aware," Fischer said. 

The game plan is to use our computer labs to bring in the Hour of Code curriculum from code.org, start getting the kids involved with it and then branch off from there."A Swarthmore College intern, Jacob Demree, will work under Fischer to oversee the program and will have three high school students assisting him.

The team has been distributing fliers to boost awareness of the effort.In addition to computer courses Demree has taken in high school and college, he completed a code.org workshop in coding to prepare for this. But his interest is in the social sciences, and he sees the computer training as a bridge to teaching life stills through computers.Demree says, "For me this is a great way to learn about and work in a community in which I am new, and try to do my best to learn from the kids while I provide whatever service I can to them.

"The course will begin with showing students how to use the computer to accomplish different goals. From there, it will move to the more abstract study of coding.The program is largely self-paced for each student but some basic lessons will be taught at the beginning. "They may not remember all the details, but we want them to walk away understanding that computers are a way to have your voice heard," Demree said.

The Summer Food Service Program, funded by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, begins June 20 and runs through August 12. Fruits, vegetables and healthy eating are an important element of the program. Breakfast is served from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. and lunch is 12:00 to 1:30 p.m., leaving plenty of time in between for computer instruction and practice."Once we get kids excited about it, they will come in on their own. When we give them a productive activity like this I think they're just going to want to be there," Norman D. Wise, CHA's director of housing operations, said.

"The good thing about coding is, it's a field that somebody could get into without a lot of formal education and be successful. So it may be a good option for some sharp kids that don't have the resources necessary to go to a four-year college.

"Six CHA residents have been hired to work at the three locations to prepare and serve the meals and manage the program.Summer Food program sites include William Penn Homes Community Learning Center, 514 Union Street, Ruth L. Bennett Homes Community Learning Center, 1350 W. 9th Street and Booker T. Washington Community Learning Center, 611 Central Avenue.