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Facebook’s Engineer For The Week program showed my students they are leaders – and just how far their skills can take them

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Facebook’s Engineer For The Week program showed my students they are leaders – and just how far their skills can take them

By Afterschool Ambassador Andrea Bridges, executive director, The CARE Center, New Hope, Alabama.

I think afterschool programs have special powers when they partner with businesses and organizations to broaden students’ horizons. So when I was recently invited by the Afterschool Alliance to help pilot Facebook’s “Engineer For The Week” (EFTW) program, which teaches students about computer engineering while helping them tackle social issues, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew how transformative a program like this could be for my students – after all, this would be new for all of us!

My students live in a rural Alabama community and attend a small, Title I school. Typically, opportunities like this one go to larger, more affluent schools, and my students miss out because of their school’s small size. They don’t have all the electives some larger schools have, and none of them have access to coding classes during the school day.

I know any computer science we do in afterschool will be the only formal coding exposure they get. But I also know my students are just as capable and interested in these subjects as students in any other school, and that afterschool is a perfect space for them to discover these kinds of interests and skills. Facebook’s Engineer For The Week program gave us the resources and support we needed to spark those moments of discovery. I was blown away by how much this program grew my students’ confidence and inspired them to see themselves as leaders.

The Sprint

In Engineer For The Week, students ages 13 and older work in small teams to design and build a video game or chatbot to address a social issue in a three-week “sprint.” I chose to step back and truly be a facilitator and, right away, I was floored by students’ vision. They chose to design a video game to address bullying, and they laid out an ambitious, detailed plan for a game that would challenge the player to make positive choices throughout an in-game ‘school day.’

Quickly, though, they realized how difficult it was to turn their idea into reality. We were all learning about the technicalities of computer coding together, and it wasn’t easy. But my students were motivated because it was connected to a real-world issue. Soon, the one student in my program who did have experience with coding noticed they were struggling and chose to join the team to help.

I watched with pride as this student, who has autism, took on a leadership role in a project. He rallied the team, became the ‘go-to’ guy for coding issues, and worked to teach the other students and help them when they got stuck. Throughout the process, he got to have his specific gifts and talents shine. With important contributions from all three of the students, we submitted the final project to Engineer For The Week’s national competition.

Soon, we found out that our students had been selected as finalists, meaning Facebook would pay for them to travel to its headquarters in Menlo Park, outside of San Francisco, for a 48-hour challenge! Funny enough, when we got the email, it was April 1st. When we told the students, they were convinced it was an April Fool’s Day prank! They insisted they wouldn’t believe us until we told them again the next day. Sure enough, the sun rose on April 2nd and reality set in: Our three 13-year-olds were headed to the Bay Area to learn from real Facebook engineers and compete with students from around the country.

Going to California

I can’t overstate what a transformative and unique experience this trip was for our students, one of whom had never flown before. Throughout the trip, Facebook made a point of making our kids feel like the bright, capable young leaders they are. They were just about the youngest and the smallest team out of the bunch, but they truly rose to the occasion and thrived. They met Facebook engineers of all races and genders, and they were challenged with difficult projects like creating a new game from scratch and pitching their projects to a panel of judges.

One night, the program hosted a dinner reception to honor the hard work all the students had put in. We walked into the room and my students’ eyes grew wide at the beautiful setting. One student turned to me and exclaimed: “Miss Andrea, I’ve always wanted to feel like a princess, and tonight I do!”

Like each of them, she discovered her talents in a whole new way that weekend. Throughout the process she found herself drawn to the visual design of their projects and, at the end of the trip, she declared she wanted to be a graphic designer when she grew up. I’m fairly positive that when she went there, she didn’t know what that was! I watched as each of my students blossomed in this new environment. One student who is normally reserved and quiet at home took the lead in pitching the teams’ projects to the judges and explaining them to everyone we met. The experience confirmed his interest in computer engineering. The same went for our student who had previous experience with coding – he relished the difficult technical challenges and got to meet students from all over who shared his interests.

You don’t have to go to California to be a computer engineer or a graphic designer; you can build careers from those skills in Alabama. But my students went to California to figure that out, and thanks to Engineer For The Week, their worlds are bigger because of it. Partnering with Facebook helped my students see just what they were capable of and where their skills can take them. As an afterschool advocate, my hope is that all children will get that same opportunity, no matter where they live or the size of their school.

Interested in bringing EFTW to your youth or learning more? Sign-up here for the Fall Season

 

Recap: Annual Out-of-School Time Advisory Coalition meeting

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BY: Guest Blogger      05/21/19

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BY: Guest Blogger      07/30/19

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BY: Guest Blogger      11/12/18

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Guest blog: You are never too young to have a voice

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BY: Nikki Yamashiro      07/23/18

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Afterschool works for me and my siblings

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BY: Guest Blogger      09/10/19

Youth Afterschool Ambassador: "My parents were able to have peace of mind while I excelled in my education."

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BY: Guest Blogger      07/30/19

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BY: Erin Hegarty      05/06/19

Making music after school

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BY: Guest Blogger      04/26/19

This Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week, let’s celebrate helping students find their voice

Justin (center) and students at Loyola University in New Orleans By Justin Pinn, director, Strategic Initiatives, Teach for America Miami-Dade. In honor of Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week, the Afterschool Snack will feature stories from our Afterschool Ambassadors and other...

BY: Guest Blogger      04/25/19

From law enforcement to afterschool

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BY: Guest Blogger      04/23/19

What makes afterschool professionally rewarding

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BY: Guest Blogger      04/22/19

My Ambassador experience

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BY: Guest Blogger      04/27/18

Afterschool Ambassadors reflect: Learning to use your voice for afterschool

For Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week, we asked a number of alumni of our Afterschool Ambassador program to reflect on how their experience as Ambassadors shaped their work and careers. This is the third of four posts in the series. Angela Henry, Kansas, 2003-2004 Our afterschool...

BY: Matt Freeman      04/26/18

Afterschool Ambassadors reflect: “The greatest privilege in my 15 years in the field”

For Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week, we asked a number of alumni of our Afterschool Ambassador program to reflect on how their experience as Ambassadors shaped their work and careers. This is the second of four posts in the series. Paula Adams, Hawai’i, 2011-2012 Ambassador...

BY: Lisa Lederer      04/24/18