Coders Enables Digital Learning Amid School Closures

More than 500 Capital One volunteers led virtual workshops that taught various technology skills

With school buildings closed in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, students faced a heightened risk of “summer slide” — the tendency for students, especially those from low-income families, to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year.

While many school districts had to substantially limit or cancel summer programming for their students, Capital One Coders offered students like Josh Graves, a 6th grader from Chicago, Illinois, the unique opportunity to continue to pursue his passion for technology through hands-on STEM programming.

Avoiding the COVID-19 Slide 

“I really enjoyed working with my mentors to create video games,” Graves said. “I was paired with two other students and we quickly understood the concepts but needed to learn the creative part of it. My favorite part was how they taught us to bring in our own unique touch.”

Josh joined more than 1,000 other students in virtually attending Capital One Coders — a program that inspires future generations by educating, mentoring and empowering students to recognize their potential as technologists.

While Capital One Coders traditionally offers our associates the opportunity to teach computer science skills in classrooms, more than 500 Capital One technologists shifted their instruction entirely online to overcome an even more pronounced “summer slide” brought on by COVID-19. 

Using the term “COVID-19 slide” to define the potential academic losses, the findings from NWEA are startling.

  • Students are predicted to return to school in the fall with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year.
  • In STEM, students could return to school in the fall with less than 50% of their learning gains, and some might fall nearly a full year behind.

According to Matthew McCurdy, Capital One Coders program manager, this programming aimed to not only help prevent this COVID-19 slide, but to also help students explore various fields in computer science that they may have not otherwise been exposed to.

  • Only two out of five K-12 schools offer computer science classes that include programming or coding.

"It was incredible to see so many students dig deep and dream big in our virtual programs,” McCurdy said. “Whether students were developing a website, creating an app or coding a chatbot, students were fully immersed in the exciting world of STEM with the support of their Capital One mentors. It was an awesome and truly rewarding experience to see so many students connecting with our associates through computer science."

Built To Last

Our programming strives to actively combat the equity gap in Computer Science by focusing on underrepresented students. 

  • 78% of Coders students are underrepresented minorities. 
  • 52% of Coders students identify as female.
  • Over 90% of our students are from low-to-moderate income communities.

For Seema Patel, an associate software engineer at Capital One, coaching female students at Coders gave her the opportunity to help diversify the future of the tech industry. 

“Young women do not always have the opportunity to see someone who looks like them in STEM positions which could make them feel like they don’t belong,” Patel said. “Seeing the students that I worked with enjoy working on their websites and wanting to work on more complex web development subjects made me feel like I was inspiring the next generation of women in tech.”

Through collaboration with community partners including Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Northern Virginia, Girls For A Change in Richmond and Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago, we’ve joined with organizations that share our commitment to bridging the equity gap in tech to offer programs to students who may not otherwise have access to computer science education.

Kim Kardelis, an FCPS after-school specialist at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, VA, says that students who speak English as a second language often have to take supplemental classes to learn the language, which in turn can prevent them from having the flexibility to take computer science classes as electives. 

“Those students aren’t experiencing middle school the same way as some of their peers,” Kardelis said. “When Coders went virtual, it gave many of these students the chance to realize they are just as capable as their peers. This program could push them into a new future.”

Through 50 Virtual Coders Camps — more than four times as many sessions offered than in previous summers — students had the opportunity to explore different areas in computer science through programs like:

  • App Inventor: Students learn about block-based coding, Android application development, and the basic principles of software development.
  • AWS Educate: Students learn about cloud computing (AI/ML) by participating in hands-on activities within Amazon Web Services.
  • Bot Camp: Students learn the fundamentals of the Python programming language and get an introduction into artificial intelligence (AI).
  • Coders Live!: Real-time, interactive demonstrations of Capital One technologists coding.
  • Web Development: Students learn the basics of HTML and CSS for web development and create their own website.

Capital One Coders is part of our larger commitment to bridge the digital divide and ensure equal access to virtual learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Coders continues its virtual programming with its fall programs that kicked off on September 8. 

While Coders gives students like Graves the inspiration to pursue his dream of someday becoming a robotics engineer, he sees the program as an opportunity for anyone interested in computer science to discover new interests and explore their creativity.

“Just keep trying,” Graves said. “In the end, everything will come together. At first you feel like you have a tiny piece of the puzzle and you don’t know what to do with it. But after you get all the pieces, they’ll fall right into place and you’ll know what to do.”

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