Who knew teaching a kid to code for a week would have such a huge impact on their grades?
Let's face it: Technology rules everything around us.
Chances are that you're probably reading this article on your laptop while simultaneously watching a video about marine iguanas on your tablet and squeezing in a game of Angry Birds on your smartphone to boot ... right?
But despite our almost complete dependence on technology in daily life, why haven't we really integrated technology into our schools' curriculums?
It probably has to do with how tech education programs are expensive.
Just ask the teachers of Englewood in Chicago.
Once a sprawling metropolis that housed Chicago's second-largest shopping district, Englewood has seen its poverty levels rise to a staggering 42% — well above the 15% national average — during the last 15 years. With that, population numbers have decreased, crime rates have increased (Englewood currently ranks in the top 10 most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago), and the number of high school graduates has dropped off, according to the Chicago Tribune.
It's safe to say the teachers in this area would agree that expensive tech programs might seem like a luxury when most of their students don't have the basics.
It's not great.
But what if cities like Englewood could afford to teach technology in schools?
After all, teaching technology skills to kids could lead to better, higher-paying jobs for them in the future, which has the potential to lower crime rates and build a stronger economy.
It's worth a try.
Founded by Scott Steward and Glenn Pereira in 2013, Project Tech Teens is trying just that.
The uniquely ambitious program is designed to harness the untapped potential of teenagers from underserved communities, teaching them the art (and science ... mostly science) of things like coding, computer science, and computer engineering.
How exactly do they plan on doing this? Through apps, obviously.
"The idea behind Tech Teens is that we can create stronger critical thinking skills and more engagement in schooling using mobile app development as the caveat," Steward told Upworthy.
"Kids are addicted to these devices. ... So we decided that we needed to create a pipeline of young people who were engaged in technology and could start studying engineering and maybe go to college."
Project Tech Teens currently offers a variety of programs for students of all ages in a few cities.
In the past couple of years, Project Tech Teens has expanded to over 500 students in schools across St. Louis, Houston, and Detroit. The programs include a one-week residential summer Tech Boot Camp and a more focused, six-week Saturday Hackathon aimed at finding the Steve Jobs of tomorrow.
At these seminars, students are often broken into teams and assigned with the task of thinking up, building, and eventually pitching their apps to potential investors "Shark Tank"-style.
The results so far have been astounding.
Last year, Project Tech Teens students designed a Guess That Lyric app that challenges users' musical knowledge and a Food Is Life app that helps children learn food groups. Both of these apps and several more were presented as part of a joint program between Project Tech Teens and Teamwork Englewood and were met with incredible acclaim by local community members.
Plus, inside the schools themselves, members of Project Tech Teens are seeing their test scores rise an average of 40%.
"To have students go from this no-tech or low-tech delivery model, where we take this complex understanding of this foreign language and make it really, really digestible, it opens the door for all kinds of learning," Steward said. "Not only can students produce these really cool apps, but they're also coming in now and saying, 'Look at my grades.'"
This is the first step in linking the insanely profitable computer science industry to struggling schools.
At just $140 for the initial course (which includes a free lunch each day, a free t-shirt, and, oh yeah, a free laptop among other things), Project Tech Teens is redefining "relevant education" in neighborhoods that arguably need this redefinition the most. In doing so, they're providing future leaders with the fundamentals to build a better world around them.
"We're trying to help students make better decisions, be stronger critical thinkers, see the connection between what they do and how it affects their life, and then see the possibilities," Steward said. "We want the students to say 'What if?' and see this as an opportunity to create sustainable, generational wealth for themselves and their families."
Programs like Project Tech Teens are an awesome example of inclusivity and forward-thinking.
They provide not only the short-term benefits of bringing kids off the street and providing them with a safe place to learn, but teach them a valuable skill that could benefit their communities years down the road. We need more of these.
Without the tech-savvy teens of today, who else will be able to lead us to victory in the inevitable cybernetic wars of tomorrow?