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CHS students offer free tech classes

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Claremont High School juniors Charles Jiang and Salma Mohideen have definitely not been sitting idly at home since CUSD officials closed their school in March.

The pair of enterprising teens launched their own online school to teach coding to other youths for free. Salma, who has been interested in coding since she was a child, hatched the idea in mid April and then approached Charles for promotional help because he is a natural organizer.

The venture, Easy Code 4 Kids, offers several courses on an ongoing basis, and coding for kids with autism. The next session, which runs from Monday, June 8 until Friday, June 12, includes coding for young kids (under 13) and coding for teens. The following week, June 15, they will offer an intro to coding for kids with autism class as well as the other two courses.

“As a kid I felt like coding was for really smart people who were super good at math, and thought it was not approachable. But once you actually start doing it you realize anyone can code and it is not that hard,” Salma said.

Charles wanted to be sure the classes were available to anyone.

“I thought it was really important to offer free classes because a lot kids don’t get the opportunity to pursue these extracurricular activities because coding, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and robotics classes are so expensive,” Charles added. “So this is an opportunity for me to get some hands on experience while being able to help out.”

He admits that he doesn’t code but takes care of the marketing and public relations, so the pair invited three more friends—Angie Gushue, Lucas Rival and Lily Widrig—to round out the tutoring team. All four of the Easy Code 4 Kids’ teachers said they learned coding at CHS.

They teach the younger kids using an application called Scratch that was developed at MIT specifically for introducing code to elementary-age children. It works by providing a series of visual blocks that the student programmer can link together in their own unique way to create animations, stories and games. Additionally, the site’s worldwide community allows students to share their creations.

“We’re teaching with Scratch because it has simple methods, so it is a really good way to get little kids into coding,” tutor Angie said. “It’s like learning an instrument—when you are young it’s easier and becomes more natural.”

Older kids learn via Python, which is a text-based language for beginners, but is also very practical and used in a lot of applications, according to Salma.

Salma and Charles had both read that kids with autism are naturals at coding, but felt these students were not being provided adequate opportunities. According to Charles, there are a few classes online, but none were free, so they decided to add the session to Easy Code 4 Kids.

“Because they are an overlooked group, we are all really excited about it,” Salma said. “It’s a misconception that they will need extra help.”

In Intro to coding for kids with autism will have smaller class size so that there are fewer social interaction stressors and more one-on-one time with the tutors, “so that if they have specific questions they can voice their opinions,” Salma said.

The class for kids with autism has plenty of room, and the team is very interested in getting the word out. They have kept enrollment down in all of the classes to facilitate more direct attention, which has been a benefit for both the tutor and students.

“One cool thing is that if the kids have issues with their code, they can share their screens with us and we tell them exactly what is wrong and how they can fix it,” Salma said. “So, it is almost like we are there with them.”

This is a first time teaching experience for almost everyone involved, but Salma said she really likes it. She has tutored math to other CHS students but this is her first time with younger children.

“It’s really important what Salma and Charles are doing because they are building a foundation for kids and giving them an opportunity to learn something new,” tutor Lily said. “The class is super fun because the eight-to-nine-year-olds are super excited to learn and Scratch is an easy way to get into coding.”

“I wanted to be part of this because I wanted to learn coding when I was a kid and there was nothing like this in Claremont,” tutor Lucas said.

Over the summer they plan to stick with the weekly schedule of classes but will transition to weekend classes once the fall semester begins.

Faithful COURIER readers may recognize the names Charles Jiang and Salma Mohideen because they also recently started Claremont Fresh, as reported in our previous edition.

The nonprofit offers a free service connecting volunteers with Claremont residents who are in need of assistance with grocery shopping or running errands.

The organization has three goals: to ensure the well-being of our community, to protect the safety and health of our senior citizens and other residents who are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19, and to mitigate the spread of the virus by decreasing the number of people in grocery stores.

“Honestly, for us, we just manage our time very strategically. Both of us have a lot on our plate, but because we both care so much about our community and helping those who are less fortunate and privileged than us, it is very important to us; so we do find the time and dedicate the time to it,” Charles said.

Claremont Fresh has been doing well, but there is still room for growth. The pair are pouring numerous hours into marketing and advertising the group.

“We do hope to have more requests because we know the need for grocery delivery assistance and help for running errands is there, we just need to be able to reach those people,” Charles said.

To sign up for an Easy Code 4 Kids class, visit http://easycode4kids.com.

For information about services, email claremontfresh@gmail.com or visit www.claremontfresh.org.

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