Bridging the Economic Tech Gap: Free Coding Camp For Low-Income Kids

Walk into the Big Brothers, Big Sisters headquarters building in Miami and it looks like school never ended. Instead of hanging out at the beach, the park, or the mall, there’s a group of high school kids designing currency exchange apps. It’s all part of a computer coding boot camp, a six-week free program for low-income students. All they have to bring is effort and a willingness to learn.

“So we can close the economic divide,” said Arnie Gurnin of the Florida Vocational Institute. “The divide that exists for minorities and tech, and create a spark, a spark of interest so students can really understand the opportunities available to them.”

Partnering with CareerSource South Florida, an initiative called TechLaunch@FVI, part of the Florida Vocational Institute, is running computer programming camps for 400 students, spread out over several locations in Miami-Dade County.

“Initially, we had over 900 kids apply and the interest across the entire city has been amazing,” Gurnin said. “We know how quickly jobs are changing, everything is innovating around technology.”

Some of the kids in the camp are receiving their first-ever exposure to coding, and that’s one of the goals of the boot camp program, to simply expose the students to the field.

“It really opens a lot of doorways so we can, like experiment, it’s really cool,” said Eliseo Sierra, a rising junior at Coral Park High School.

In one week, students create their apps, giving them a taste of success which shows them they can do it, they can shoot for careers in the tech world.

“I’ve been kind of interested in technology so this is a good chance for me,” explained Paula Salazar, also a Coral Park High student.

By some estimates, there are one million tech jobs either available now or being created in the United States.

“I’m learning how to do more stuff than just making games, so if it doesn’t work with that I can still do something in technology,” said camper Esgar Philistin, a student at Turner Tech High School.

“Doing something in technology” doesn’t mean just a tech company like Google. Healthcare, logistics, tourism are just some of the industries in South Florida which need techies.

“Kids that are willing to give up those casual summer days to really learn about careers in tech and how they can participate in these future careers is gonna have a huge impact on our community in the near-term and as Miami continues to evolve into a tech center,” Gurnin said.

Next week, the students move on to working on cyber security, and at the end of the six week program, they can earn Microsoft certification. Instead of sunburns, the coding camp kids will go back to high school with confidence and possibly, a sense of career direction.

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