McArthur’s Force of Nature Teaches Kids With Special Needs Coding

All the students in the room at McArthur High School in Hollywood have a laptop. All the laptops are open to games created by the students. All the students are classified as special needs kids because they have varying degrees of learning disabilities, and the only teacher in the room is also a student.

Natalie Almonte took it upon herself to teach the special needs kids how to code.

"They are capable of more things than maybe we give them credit for, so when I learned they weren't being taught coding, I thought, why not? They definitely can do it," Natalie explained.

Natalie started this effort in January, using her study hall period as instructional time. She created the curriculum, jumped right in, and her friends and teachers were like, wow, she's really doing this.

"You know to work with special needs kids, and to work with them on such a complex level, most students would shy away from, she took that as an inspiration, she took that as a challenge, she said no, let's go," said Robin Roopchand, Natalie's AP psychology teacher. "It's incredible, I wish we could clone her."

"All of those students are captivated by the new curriculum that she's bringing to them," said Christian Campbell, one of Natalie's friends.

Natalie's been captivated, too, by watching her students succeed.

"When I saw the amount of excitement that those students had, my heart just filled with so much joy because that is the amount of excitement that I have when I am coding in my AP classes or whatnot," Natalie said. "And so to see that excitement, it just motivated me and inspired me to try and share what I've learned with them."

If this was programming program was all Natalie accomplished in four years of high school it would be significant, but she does so much more: varsity soccer, varsity cross country, debate, and oh by the way, she's ranked number one in the junior class.

"Oh yeah!" Natalie laughs. "Definitely proud of that, it takes a lot of hard work for me to maintain that because I definitely know the competition at my school is really tough."

The classmates with whom Natalie is competing for top academic ranking in the junior class are her best friends. They hang out together, study together, and make each other better.

"Natalie is so inspiring," said classmate Rebeckah Anestin. "She tries to think of ways she can use her skills and her talents to help others around her."

"It's really nice to see someone strive for something that they want and actually be able to reach it," added classmate Marisol Alfonso.

Natalie is certainly a striver. She wants to be a software engineer one day, hopefully after graduating from one of her dream schools: Yale, MIT, or Stanford.

First, she'll keep her coding program running next year at McArthur High.

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