Crack the Code:
Creating A Community of Coders
By Kavya Venkatesan
Crack the Code is a workshop series by Junior Achievement of New Jersey (JANJ) that is aimed towards fostering an interest in technology in middle school students. This student-led initiative has already reached over 152 students from 40+ schools across New Jersey this year. Through the powerful collaboration of our high school volunteers, corporate volunteers, and JANJ program interns, Crack the Code has helped empower a community of young leaders in STEM! We are so grateful for everyone involved including our sponsors like Bayer Fund, ADP, EY, and Verizon that have supported and helped this program become what it is today.
Led by JANJ Program Interns, Swathi Parthiba, Ria Vora, and Serena Zeng, Crack the Code sessions occur every month on Zoom and welcome students from all backgrounds of technology. The dedication, leadership, and passion of these three students have enabled this workshop series to gain traction and become a huge success!
Each session provides an engaging introduction to fundamental concepts in coding and culminates with a hands-on project. Some of the creations by the students in the past workshops include games and interactive applications developed in Scratch and Python. While the students build their projects, high school and corporate volunteers provide coaching for different concepts and challenge them to think critically.
As a student volunteer and high school freshman, it has been a great pleasure to be a part of this incredible initiative. I have truly enjoyed empowering young, curious students in my community through my knowledge. In honor of this experience, I wanted to share my perspective on how this initiative has positively impacted students.
Creating a Collaborative Community
After volunteering in the past two sessions, I have firsthand seen how the Crack the Code initiative fosters and nurtures a community of students passionate for learning and problem-solving. From collaboratively debugging code to discussing different concepts, the students were actively ideating, communicating, and supporting each other throughout the sessions. For instance, when students were presented a coding exercise to complete, they embraced each other’s ideas enthusiastically and were willing to grow together. Even in the project presentations, students constantly supported each other with positive feedback and suggestions that made them feel accepted and involved. As one student put it, “It was really engaging, social, and lots of fun!” Seeing this collaborative community flourish in just a few hours showed me and my fellow volunteers how learning can bring students together.
Engagement Through Empowerment
Another unique aspect about the Crack the Code workshops is that it is constantly hands-on and engaging for both the coaches leading the sessions and attendees. The coaches not only teach the different concepts but also interact with students through meaningful dialogue. Students are often asked questions regarding different concepts and encouraged to think about how technology can be applied to solve real-world experiences. They are also given the opportunity to constantly share their ideas and thoughts throughout the sessions. By encouraging students to have a voice, every participant is constantly involved and feeling empowered to contribute to the discussion. This sense of empowerment can be a powerful force in student lives by driving young people to solve issues that are important to them and be leaders in their own communities.
Diversity: The Key to Success
Finally, the diverse and inclusive atmosphere really makes this program one-of-a-kind. Students from various schools, grade levels, and backgrounds in technology have joined us in the past sessions. There has also been an amazing turnout of students who are from traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM. This diversity has encouraged some interesting dialogue where students often share their perspectives of technology and what problems they think are important to be solved. Having conversations like these is important for young students so that they can be empowered to bring change to the world. It is great how JANJ is working with other organizations to increase diversity in fields like technology because growth and unity is only possible through diversity!
Overall, Crack the Code is a great example of how there is no limit to the age, time, and distance necessary for learning and giving back to the community. Our actions are powerful instruments of change, and together, we can empower more youth in technology and leadership. Whether you want to volunteer, participate, or support Crack the Code, join JANJ in making a difference in student lives. The next workshop is March 20th, 2021, and we hope to see you there!
About the Author:
Kavya Venkatesan is a high school freshman passionate for STEM, leadership, writing, music, investing, and giving back to the community. As an active volunteer at Junior Achievement New Jersey, Kavya served on the Women’s Future Leadership Forum Advisory Board and was involved in initiatives like the Crack the Code series. Her team also won the Best General Hack in the 2021 JANJ Hackathon. In the future, Kavya hopes to empower more youth across NJ through her knowledge and leadership skills.