Nonprofit ScriptEd NYC Teaches Coding to Underprivileged Students

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If you read the article in Monday’s New York Times about Microsoft engineers who teach computer science in high schools, then you may be interested in ScriptEd NYC. Led by two New York City professionals and Teach for America alums, this new non-profit is the latest attempt to bridge the “digital divide” and teach students in underserved areas the computer science skills they need to land jobs in this high-tech economy.

Maurya Couvares, pro-bono coordinator at the New York law firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP, and Elizabeth Davidson, an education policy Ph.D candidate at Columbia University, started piloting their program at Harlem Village Academies last week. Twice a week for an hour and a half after school, tech professionals — including one from — are teaching 15 high-school freshmen how to use JavaScript.

(MORE: ‘Girls Who Code’ Looks to Close the Tech Gender Gap)

Next they will tackle HTML and CSS, and by the end, students will have to make either their own interactive website or video game. Couvares and Davidson are even considering having students work with some of the data available on NYC’s Open Data Mine so that students can learn more about their neighborhoods.

Davidson and Couvares said more than half of the students they tutor have a working computer at home. “We chose JavaScript because we weren’t sure what technology we would have when we entered the school, and JavaScript can be learned in a web browser with a simple text editor,” Davidson said.

Only five of the 15 students in the pilot are women. While ScriptEd plans to keep classes co-ed, there are several organizations that focus on encouraging more women to pursue careers in technology — such as CodeEd (nationwide), Black Girls Code in San Francisco, and Girls Who Code in New York City, which Techland featured in June. Females represented only 18 percent of the less than 40,000 students who earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science in 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

As ScriptEd NYC expands its after-school program throughout the city, Couvares and Davidson hope to combine the classes with an internship program so that the students can shadow tech professionals and apply these skills in real life.

Many of the best, highest-paying jobs in the fastest-growing fields require knowledge of coding to get ahead. For example, due to the increasing demand for software development in every industry, software development jobs are expected to grow 30 percent from 2010 to 2020, “much faster than the average for all occupations,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We want to teach them something that they can actually use to market themselves in the future, and do something with computers beyond just surfing web pages,” Couvares said.

MORE: Codecademy Founder on Why Everyone Should Learn Coding