How to help low-income kids? Teach them coding, nonprofit says

How to help low-income kids? Teach them coding, nonprofit says
Updated: Mar. 20, 2017 at 4:28 PM HST
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WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A free program in Hawaii schools has students in low-income areas doing the same type of work that programmers do in Silicon Valley.

Purple Mai'a Foundation says only four public schools in the state offer advanced computer science classes.

Its hoping to change that -- one school at a time.

The program, which combines Hawaiian-based learning with advanced computer coding, is now offered in 10 schools.

Instead of calling the neighborhoods they're in as low-income or disadvantaged, the organization refers to them as "high opportunity areas."

Among the schools where the program is offered: Kaimaile Academy in Waianae.

"Everyone should know how to code and people are needing coding jobs in the future," said Kamaile Academy student Tom Carr, a participant. "It would be really good especially for people who might be disadvantaged."

Purple Maia co-founder Olin Lagon, who grew up at Kuhio Park Terrace and now works in engineering at a Fortune 500 company, said many of the students the program helps wouldn't "have the opportunity to learn advanced computer science or have access to information and technology."

Lagon said one of the foundation's students was homeless and living on the beach on Maui. The student learned coding and was subsequently selected to do program testing with Microsoft.

"Technology is color blind so these kids that learn technology from day one, people won't look at who they are or where they're from," he said.

Teachers, meanwhile, say the program's classes work -- and they've seen the transformation in their students.

"Once they develop that appreciation and knowledge, then they can get as focused as they are today," said Purple Maia teacher Marion Ano.

And the program's success is getting recognized. It was recently named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Hawaii Venture Capital Association.

For more information on the program, click here.

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