NJIT takes its community service very seriously. It has made the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll — “one of the highest recognitions a university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement” — six times, and in 2018, more than 59,000 volunteer hours were recorded from students and faculty.
This is reflected in the NJIT student body. From service-oriented fraternities to volunteering clubs, there are a variety of organizations on campus dedicated to giving back to the community. One such organization is Kids Who Code, which, as the name suggests, is based on helping teach computer programming to children.
Founded just last spring semester, Kids Who Code has grown to having just under 100 members according to the roster on Highlander Hub. It was initially founded to help out at the after-school program at 13th Ave/ Dr. MLK Jr. School in Newark and to create a curriculum to enhance the programming proficiency among the youth in Newark.
“For my freshman seminar class we had to do a community service project within Newark, so my group went to 13th Ave elementary school and we just helped out other afterschool programs,” said Donna Sunny, a junior Chemical Engineering major and the president of Kids Who Code, recalling her inspiration for founding the club. “I realized pretty early on while we were volunteering that they were understaffed and overpopulated with students, and they really needed some kind of help. I knew that if I created some kind of organization on NJIT’s campus to facilitate sending volunteers there regularly, that could really benefit them and also be a great community service opportunity for NJIT students, especially since a lot of people need volunteer hours.”
From there, Kids Who Code has expanded to volunteering at Science Park High School, a local magnet public high school.
“A few of [the high schoolers] applied to NJIT actually, and it was really great getting to know them and telling them about our experiences,” said Sunny. “We wanted to not only teach elementary programming languages like Scratch, but also expand our horizons and target an audience that was older. We teach the high schoolers Java.”
All Kids Who Code members receive training prior to volunteering so that they know exactly what is expected of them and how they should conduct themselves in an environment with young children. The members are then split up into three different groups: mentoring students via the buddy system, creating lesson plans and social media and public relations. In the buddy system group, members are partnered up with an elementary school or high school student with whom they work one-on-one, particularly if the student is struggling to master certain concepts.
A typical day at the 13th Ave. school for members involves taking the RU Campus Connect bus as a group to the Bergen building and then teaching the students individually. Teaching is done through Scratch, which is a block-based visual programming language developed by the MIT Media Lab. The students used Scratch to make visual-based coding projects, such as writing a program to design a virtual mandala. While visually entertaining for the children, this project also helped teach them important concepts such as for-loops and taking input.
Meanwhile, at Science Park, the learning is slightly more hands-off, but volunteers are still available to help the students whenever they need help. Some projects that the high schoolers have done involve learning Turtle, a Python graphics library that is also taught at NJIT in CS100, and Java.
“I wanted to join because I just like the idea of bringing this new topic to kids who haven’t experienced it before,” said Dhvani Mistry, a junior Computer Science major and the Secretary of Kids Who Code. “Our organization gives them not only something fun to do after school, but it’s also just something interesting for them to learn and explore, maybe as a career or even just as a hobby. I think it’s important that they have like different things that they can explore. Especially because their schools may not have these classes. So I think it’s important to bring this to those schools.”
Kids Who Code is a great way to give back to the Newark community by helping children learn how to code and explore programming. Volunteers augment their own leadership experience, communication skills and programming knowledge while making a positive impact on local youth.
“Sometimes when we’re not even in the classroom, random kids from last semester, will be like, ‘oh, I remember you, you’re the boss of them right?’ And I’ll be like, yeah,” said Sunny. “Yeah, they’re super sweet and it’s really nice. You feel like you’re doing something beneficial. Join our club … it’s a great fun time, you meet new people, and you volunteer. It’s a great resume builder. You gain so much experience, working with kids and working with programming.”