The tech youth camp is tackling the digital divide south of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Not knowing what to expect when his parents enrolled him, 13-year-old Terrence Thomas has been attending summer camp at the SoLa Technology and Entrepreneurship Center in South Los Angeles for the past three weeks.

“I thought I was going to be, sit and listen most of the time,” Terrence said. “But it was like, sitting down, having fun.”


What you need to know

  • SoLa Technology and Entrepreneurship Center in South Los Angeles offers a free camp for students, focused on technology education
  • Courses include coding, web design, virtual reality, graphic design, robotics and video game design
  • The camp is run by the “SoLa I CAN Foundation,” a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire disadvantaged youth in southern Los Angeles.
  • Camp organizers also hope the camp will create a number of talents to cover technology jobs, which often have higher salary potential.

While Terrence has spent time in front of a computer, he has also learned many new skills.

“The hardest thing I learned in camp was probably using iMovie,” he said. “It was very difficult.”

Terrence explained that his father is a teacher who fostered his love of mathematics and taught him from an early age how to use computers. When he was in third grade, Terrence inspected them and hacked them.

“I found it really fascinating that I could create different websites by coding and I can use the computer easily by coding,” he said.

The opportunity to attend this free summer camp in Terrence’s own community increased their tech game. He learned how to edit videos and music, grab graphic design skills, and create a business card. Students were able to use technology such as virtual reality headsets.

The free camp is run by the SoLa I CAN Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire disadvantaged youth in southern Los Angeles. The goal is to close the digital divide that is often seen among low-income black and Latino youth, a gap that grew during the pandemic and added to the existing lack of technological access to the community.

The nonprofit found that 87% of students at 13 large public high schools in the area did not have access to technology-related electives.

Keith Parker, a field advisor and coordinator, teaches coding and noted that it’s not easy, but that students keep their work online and come back to it over time.

“That’s what we’re looking at is longevity, not just here and now, but you’ll be able to do that when you get to high school,” Parker said. “So that’s what we plant, we plant the seed, but we also make sure it continues.”

Parker explained that the camp can also create a string of talents to cover technology jobs, which often have higher salary potential. According to the nonprofit organization, the Los Angeles technology sector is the second largest technology job market in the United States with more than 500,000 positions.

“There’s something here for all the kids, and the most important thing is that they’re exposed to it and they’re figuring out what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he said.

Terrence went to camp three weeks in a row and loved it so much that he returned as a junior counselor to help other students.

“I’m going to miss the opportunity I had to help the other campers,” he said. “I’m definitely going to miss some of my advisors and just have fun.”

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