2013-10-02

Co.Exist

High School Hacking Lessons To Create "Google-Ready" Students

Want a job in the Valley? It's best to start early, and this Saturday-school computer science class is doing just that--with New York students who aren't usually exposed to code.

Throw a rock in the tech world and you’ll find a “learn-to-code” advocate. But among actual computer science educators, Mike Zamansky at the elite Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, is one of the most outspoken. His vision was the seed of the Academy for Software Engineering, New York City’s first coding-focused high school. He’s been a public critic of the finished product, though, and now he’s starting something new and more fully under his control. Instead of a standalone school, now he's addressing computer science outside the school week, starting with Saturdays.

“We have a lot of things that we want to do, and have to start somewhere,” says Zamansky. Relying on fellow Stuyvesant teachers as educators, and data analytics company SumAll for space, the Saturday “hacking sessions” will have high school juniors and seniors building their own systems, using languages like Javascript, Python, and MongoDB.

His goal is to ultimately offer lectures, internships, and classes built for rank beginners, but for this effort he’s looking for 20 to 25 kids with programming experience to put through a hands-on, project-oriented curriculum. “We’re big believers in culture,” Zamansky says. “The best way to kickstart that is to start with people who have a little bit of a background.”

It’s the first major effort to teach non-Stuyvesant students by his non-profit organization, “CSTUY," a name that reads as a play on Stuyvesant (called “Stuy” for short), but stands for Computer Science and Technology for Urban Youth.

On the one hand, the concept is rooted in the successful Stuyvesant High School classes, which boast of “Google-ready” alumni working at an array of tech firms. In explaining what makes the program different, CSTUY’s website cites Zamansky and his fellow Stuy teachers’ history of success: “While CSTUY is new, it is a natural growth out of the work that Mike [Zamansky], JonAlf [Dyrland-Weaver], and Sam [Konstantinovich] have been doing at Stuyvesant High School.”

On the other hand, when asked about the relationship of CSTUY with real Stuy, Zamansky is clear: “There is none.” The program’s independence is a product of the tension between his job teaching Stuy students, and his organization’s mission to teach everyone else. “It makes certain things difficult,” says Zamansky. “For example, we want to reach out to schools, but those of us who work at school can’t do it, because we’re working during the day and that would be violating our contract if we reached out on our behalf during the school day.”

Outreach to other schools will be critical to the program’s mission to give students an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise. “If you happen to go to a school that I happen to know has a lot of resources in terms of teaching computer science, you don’t need us so much,” says Zamansky.

So far, Zamansky says most of the applications have been in a less-needy group: Stuyvesant students. But he hopes the picture will be different after the September 29 application deadline. “Since it’s an email-based application and these are high school kids, they’re not going to come in until the last minute,” he says.

After the Saturday school starts, CSTUY’s immediate plans include a second wave of Saturday students, and an after-school program. “[The first Saturday school] isn’t our program: it’s a piece of our puzzle,” says Zamansky. Ultimately, he wants to cover everything from classes for beginners to career-track internships, getting a larger and more diverse group of students “Google-ready.” “It’s gonna take time,” he says.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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