Coding at CUES! 

Meet Alicia Ellington, 26, of Pittsburg, CA. She is an exemplary AmeriCorps National Member, currently finishing up her second year of service with Safe Passages at Community United Elementary School (CUES) in Oakland. Her cohort consists of eighteen 4th and 5th-grade girls who adore her.

Earlier this year, Alicia noticed that all of these 10 and 11-year-old girls were experts on their phones. She says, “They are discouraged from using their phones at school, and I understand that because I know it’s distracting – but I also wanted them to know that what they’re doing on their phones and with technology is actually a marketable skill. It’s a different language that they didn’t even know they were fluent in. I want them to be empowered to own that knowledge and pursue it.”

So Alicia decided to channel her students’ interest in technology and is teaching them how to code as the enrichment aspect of the after school program this year.

Since CUES does not have a computer lab or computer teacher to teach the students Microsoft Office Suite or other basic programs, Alicia took the initiative to research available curriculum and programs. She found a great free program called Coding With Kids. Alicia explains why closing the digital divide for her students is so important: “I didn’t want them to be at a disadvantage just because their school doesn’t have the same resources as other schools. As members of the Tech Generation, my girls need to know these things!”

Alicia set up an account for each of her students and had them take an initial aptitude test to gauge their level of knowledge/skill. When asked about the girls’ reaction to the curriculum, Alicia shares that “some of them were frustrated at first, while others caught on really quickly.” Carla, a fifth-grader, says that her favorite aspect of coding is “how all of the small steps come together and talk to each other in order to make something bigger. It’s cool to see how all the pieces fit together to make something new.”

To date, Alicia’s students have covered what it means to code, algorithms, debugging, the basics of app design, and so much more. Alicia also wants her students to see that coding can be creative in the traditional sense, too. So, as a final project, each student will design their own Google Layout – which they are very excited about!

Alicia also talks to the girls about the importance of women in Tech and other STEM fields. She adds, “Girls and women are just as able to learn, master, and advance these fields as anyone else. I want my girls to know that they can accomplish whatever they put their minds to. I want them to know they can do anything, and that nothing is off-limits for them just because it has historically been ‘a guy thing.’ That’s in the past, and we’re looking to the future.”

Alicia explains that her AmeriCorps experience has given her the drive to continue pursuing a career in coding. She explains, “I grew up loving video games as a kid – the story aspect of them, which is why I went to school for theater and ended up graduated from CSULA with a degree in Theater and Stage Management.” But as time went on – especially this past year working on coding with her students in AmeriCorps – Alicia realized that she wanted to “do more” with her love of tech. So she decided to enroll in Full Sail University, an accredited online college, to learn the program language Unity and receive her Bachelor of Science in Game Design. She hopes to graduate in January 2019, and directly afterward plans to attend Hackbright Academy For Women to learn another coding language called Python, to make herself as competitive an applicant as possible. Her ultimate goal is to relocate to San Francisco or San Rafael to get into the gaming industry.

She hopes to one day “create an educational coding software that’s designed specifically for young girls because I’ve seen that a lot of young girls do love learning about tech and coding. They just need the opportunity!”