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The Citizen Updates: Coded by Kids

The five year old tech training program launched a student-run web design agency last fall, and is set to expand here and statewide this year

The Citizen Updates: Coded by Kids

The five year old tech training program launched a student-run web design agency last fall, and is set to expand here and statewide this year

Enmanuel Herrera seems like your average high schooler, at first glance. The relatively shy Kensington Health Sciences Academy sophomore goes to school by day, but once the clock hits 5 pm, he’s a working professional through and through.

Dressed in a school uniform button-up and cardigan, Herrera heads to Coded by Kids’ office on West Market Street and gets to work programming and designing at the student-run agency, Draft Studios.

“For me, everything started as an after-school program,” he says. “I like how you can express a lot of things just using the computer. I love creating and designing websites.”

Herrera discovered his love of coding through Coded by Kids, an after-school program started in 2014 by Sylvester Mobley that teaches students the basics of digital design and web programming. He’d only been in the program for about a year when he realized he really excelled and applied for Coded’s Draft Studios.

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The web design agency  is one of the results of Mobley’s five year effort to bring tech training to kids like he was in Philly—eager and talented enough to learn technology skills, but oblivious of what it takes to break into the tech space. At first, hardly anyone showed up to his classes, at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center. But the former Marine stuck with it.

“If you’re a Marine, you’re committed whether it’s one kid or 100,” Mobley said when The Citizen first wrote about Coded by Kids in 2015. “If you’re a Marine, and you see a need, you see that something needs to be done? You do it, and you apologize later if you need to.”

Now, almost 700 kids have taken classes at 22 Coded by Kids locations in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware. That number is set to exponentially grow, thanks to a three year $250,000 funding commitment from the Kopelman Foundation—founded by First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman and his wife, Rena—which will allow Coded by Kids to reach 120 kids per year at two city rec centers, including Graduate Hospital’s Anderson. The program, with 12 full time employees and a host of volunteer instructors, is promoted through the School District to students in more than 20 public and charter schools around the city. And Mobley says he plans to expand to Pittsburgh in the near future using funds from the organization’s 36 sponsors and public donations.

“There’s a lot of issues in terms of who has access to opportunities in tech,” Mobley says. “What makes Philadelphia a really good city for Coded by Kids is the lack of high-quality tech education for all kids regardless of their race, zip code or how much their parents make But Philadelphia is not unique, unfortunately. This happens across our country.”

A three year $250,000 funding commitment from the Kopelman Foundation will allow Coded by Kids to reach 120 kids per year at two city rec centers. 

Jahmir Teachey, a senior at Freire Charter School has been with Coded by Kids for almost four years and joined Draft Studios when it launched in November. He’s always been interested in tech, he says, but being a part of the Coded by Kids family has taught him more about business and networking. Teachey created a start-up with some friends which he presented at Coded by Kids’ Diamond Challenge, a competition for young entrepreneurs to present their business ideas.

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“We spent countless nights and hours working on it,” he says. “Most people don’t really enjoy late nights talking to people and drinking lots of sugary products so you stay up but it actually made me really happy and that’s what made me really love programming: the communication and the team that you build.”

Though Teachey he doesn’t work on the start-up much anymore, he fills his time working on real-world web design at Draft Studios. He plans to attend LaSalle University in the fall to earn a degree in computer science while continuing to work at Draft Studios.

“Once Coded by Kids came to my school and showed us how to code, it opened my eyes to this world that you don’t really think about,” Teachey said. “You use tech all around you, even the littlest things like opening a garage door. Someone had to program the button to do that. After seeing everything around my world that relates to it I wanted to do it more.”

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Draft Studio gives Coded by Kids’ most invested students the opportunity to pair with local businesses and nonprofits to create and revamp their websites and work on other web development programs. Though the students can largely do the work on their own, volunteer tech and startup professionals mentor and advise them.

Herrera said he had never taken a computer class until he joined Coded by Kids. Now, he says he is sure he wants to go to college and get a degree in computer science, and feels prepared because of what Draft Studios taught him.

“I’ve learned a lot of responsibility through dates and deadlines,” he says. “I’ve learned to really do my work. Coded by Kids showed me a path to college that I can follow.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of the Kopelman Foundation’s commitment to Coded by Kids. It is $250,000 over three years.

Photo courtesy of Coded by Kids

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