Educator champions tech innovation for youth

Posted at 11:11 AM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-03 13:29:56-04

Charlotte James realized the importance of computer science education while working in Bolivia.

As a social journalism instructor working with local youth in Cochabamba, she quickly discovered that most of her students—regardless of economic status—lacked the basic technological skills needed to research and write a story using online search functions and word processing programs.

It was a rude awakening that compelled James to shift gears. 

“I started to recognize how detrimental the digital divide is and how being left out of it means that you’re left out of everything now,” she said. “You don’t have access to information. You can’t get information about politics. You can’t then analyze that information and how it applies to your life. You can’t then make smart decisions when you vote.”

Upon returning to the United States in 2010, the Philadelphia native and Johns Hopkins University alumna became a Baltimore Corps Fellow and now works as the Communications Director at Code in the Schools, a local non-profit that provides computer science education to underserved and underrepresented youth.

While James isn't a programmer, she pushes for Baltimore City students to gain access to a growing tech workforce she projects will balloon to a $500 billion industry by the year 2020. Her mission is to make sure the city’s bright, young minds aren’t left behind.

“The idea is that coding is all around us,” she said. “Any time you turn on your phone or use an app, you’re using coding. So, instead of being a passive consumer of those things, we want to empower youth to be the makers and creators of this technology.”

Code in the Schools is a 3-year-old organization founded by Baltimore native Gretchen LeGrand. The program operates out of the Impact Hub community space located in Station North and is the only organization that has a contract with the city to provide in-school computer science instruction.

The group partners with area schools and summer camps to build on the basics of computer programming from kindergarten through 12th grade. They also plug students into workforce development and offer after school instruction on subjects including video game development, robotics and circuitry.

Instructors are currently dispatched to 10 schools and two after school sites throughout the city, with a summer program in the works connecting 80 students ages 17-21 to the employment pipeline through paid internships and college readiness programs.

“There’s so much talent in Baltimore,” James said. “All these kids are walking around with a cash pot of ideas in their minds without the skills to express those ideas. What we try to do is demystify computer science and then teach employable, useful and pragmatic skills that can be transferred into many sectors.”

Through Code in the Schools, James hopes to stretch startup investment to neighborhoods often overlooked in city, preparing city students for leadership in innovation.

“We want Baltimore City youth to blow everybody out of the water with their talent, their ideas and their ability to be just as good as students who have had incredible access to opportunity their entire lives.”

Download the ABC2 News app for the iPhone  , Kindle   and Android