South Bend Code School teaches kids to code, and provides career and college prep for students. Co-founders Alexandra Sejdinaj, Alex Sejdinaj and Chris Frederick have launched several locations around the state. They are holding classes currently at Cowork Bloomington, with plans to move into Dimension Mill when construction is completed.
Alexandra, Alex and Chris were kind enough to answer questions about South Bend Code School for the Crimson Catalyst blog.
Question: What was the “Aha!” moment when you realized that the South Bend Code School was needed?
Alexandra Sejdinaj: The “Aha!” moment came when I was tutoring at area high schools during my senior year at the University of Notre Dame. I noticed that many high school students felt that without a college degree, decent job opportunities were not attainable, and many of the students I was working with did not think that college was accessible to them. When I began to do research on careers with high potential that did not require a college degree, coding was one of the most exciting things I found. I quickly began to learn as much as I could about coding and launched a pilot tech program at the Robinson Community Learning Center in South Bend, which would eventually bring me together with Alex and Chris.
Alex Sejdinaj: I love Alexandra’s story about how she came to find coding to be a valuable skill, and I think it’s a great example of one type of impact coding can have. When I think about the moment I realized SBCS was needed, I don’t think of it as an “Aha!” moment. It was more of a slow realization for me.
I didn’t study computer science or do anything computer-programming-related until after college. It wasn’t something I was really aware was out there. When I first started to learn how to code, I remember feeling really disappointed that it took me until my 20s to find out about it. SBCS is the program that I wished would have existed when I was in middle and high school.
Chris Frederick: Unlike Alex, I was exposed to this stuff very early on. I was the student who tried to convince his high school principal that computer programming should be an option for our foreign language requirement because when the robot uprising occurred, those who knew how to code would be able to communicate with them.
In all seriousness, the importance of SBCS is vast. Having five kids of my own, I also think about what skills I want them to be exposed to, and coding is one of those things that ranks top of the list for me. When we had the opportunity to work with students at the Robinson Center three years ago, I saw it as a chance to explore what coding for youth might look like. I think it was only about halfway through the program there when we all felt like we were really onto something that could go beyond one summer camp.
Q: What experiences do you have that have led you to be able to create and run the school?
Alexandra: Even though between the three of us we have shared experience in education and technology, I think all three of us have this really strong entrepreneurial spirit. We all noticed a space for this type of education to grow in our community, and we had a very ambitious vision for where we wanted technology education to go.
Alex: To be honest, I don’t know that there is anything that would have prepared us. Like Alexandra said, each of us has some experience with education and/or technology, but there is so much more that goes into a program like this. Once you involve students and families, you begin to see a lot of unique situations, and you get a lot of interesting curveballs thrown your way. Then you go ahead and mix in a business model, and you really start thinking on your feet.
Chris: I think that we all have some life experience that has enabled us to make this program what we have. I know it takes a unique mix of experience, personalities and ambition to drive what we do, and I think that for each of us it feels like we are constantly gaining more experience that prepares us for the next thing that SBCS does.
Q: How is the school’s programming organized? Who can participate? What do they learn?
Alexandra: We’ve been going strong for three years and over that time we have learned quite a bit. Our goal is to provide quality tech education for students, focusing on their individual development and their growth mindset along the way. We serve students ages 7-18, and students are able to pursue a variety of coding languages that suit their experience level and interest. For example, a student can begin learning HTML and CSS by building a digital hamburger, explore Python by programming a game of Hangman, or learn the fundamentals of designing and building databases.
We’ve noticed that not all students enter our program with equal knowledge of programming or coding. We have been focusing on training our staff to recognize, and help, if a student is new to coding and doesn’t know where to start. Our team of instructors is able to help students draw connections between their interests and programming. As always, it is important to us that coding be accessible and available to every student, no matter the level of experience.
Alex: To emphasize Alexandra’s point of accessibility, we also have scholarships available for students interested in attending our programs. We offer partial and full scholarships to families who fill out the financial aid section on our online application.
Q: What success metrics can you share about the school?
Alex: Since our first program three years ago, we have had just over 570 students in our formal programs. Of those students, 33 percent are female, and 41 percent are underrepresented minorities. It is also worth pointing out that about 45 percent of students who go through our program receive assistance through our scholarship program, meaning that a program like this would not be available to them without some financial assistance.
Alexandra: We have had 16 students go on to obtain tech-related internships or jobs. We also had 14 high school graduates go on to tech-related college programs in the fall 2017 semester.
Q: How did the process begin to bring the school to Bloomington? Who was involved, and how have you worked together?
Chris: Since we started the program, things have grown really quickly, and the opportunity to expand to new cities found us a little over a year ago. We always had the idea somewhere in our minds of expanding the program, but we didn’t think it would happen quite as fast as it did.
Alexandra: About a year and a half ago, we were visiting other cities just to see what the tech education climate was like in other places in Indiana. When we came to Bloomington, we ended up talking with the Bloomington Technology Partnership, the Bloomington Economic Development Corp., and the folks involved with the Dimension Mill project. Everyone we met really rallied around the idea of a code school for kids in Bloomington and made an effort to make us feel welcome in the community. At a certain point you say to yourself, “We’ve got everything we need here. Let’s make it happen!”
Q: What makes Bloomington a good place for the school to hold classes?
Alex: Bloomington is a fantastic place to offer classes! It’s a city where connections can be made with people who believe in the vision and importance of bringing coding to youth. Bloomington is also a progressive town by nature, and parents want exciting opportunities for kids in the community. Everyone we have met with here is generally excited about the momentum behind technology education.
Q: What goals do you have for the Bloomington school?
Alexandra: At a fundamental level, SBCS is about getting more youth experienced with coding, but we think that experience in this community will be something special. SBCS Bloomington has the opportunity to grow into something amazing. Like we mentioned earlier, the immense amount of support we have received from the community really excites us, and we feel that this program will grow to be a very powerful testament to the impact of technology education. We’re happy and excited to be in Bloomington!
Families can sign up their students for classes online at southbendcodeschool.com. Questions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or communicated via the South Bend Coding School’s social media platforms.