I walked through the halls of Federal Hill Preparatory School in South Baltimore a couple weeks ago, passing colorfully painted walls draped with drawings of historical figures and marine animals. In the second floor computer lab, Gretchen LeGrand, Executive Director of Code in the Schools, was teaching a class of 5th graders an introduction to coding. While LeGrand warned me on how un-cooperative the computers were being that morning, the patience and intelligence of those youngsters seemed to overcome the school’s technological shortcomings. While a bit too young to dive head first into full-blown HTML coding, these children were using what’s called “block coding.” A system designed to teach those with beginner typing schools, how to code.
Code in the Schools, which LeGrand founded with her husband just one year ago, has grown exponentially and is now in five Baltimore schools, including the brand new Baltimore Design School in Greenmount West. Inspired by the work of start-up, Code.org, LeGrand and her husband decided that educating Baltimore’s youth on the ways of computer programming was essential in today’s world.
“Not everyone has the resources to go to a four-year college,” LeGrand said as we chatted over coffee. Her dedication to teaching usable, marketable skills to Baltimore’s youth seems to line up with what Andrew Coy and his crew are doing over at the Digital Harbor Foundation. “I think our program compliments DHF nicely,” said LeGrand. “They’re an after school program and we’re in the schools.”
Just yesterday I got a chance to spend some more time with Gretchen, as well her husband Mike at Frederick Douglass High School (FDHS) in northwest Baltimore. Developer, Bully! Entertainment, where Mike works, is developing a mobile video game application using famous soccer legend, Pele as its subject. Paired with Bully! and The Baltimore Blast, Code in the Schools organized a student-run motion capture of current Blast midfielder, Lucas Roque and all time leading scorer, Denison Cabral in the FDHS Motion Capture Lab. CBS Baltimore covered the story and you can read all about it here.
LeGrand, who spent the first several years of her professional life as a therapist, now works full time (and then some) to run the organization from her Bolton Hill home, with help from Mike. Code in the Schools served over 150 kids in 2013 and plans to surpass that in 2014. “By 2020 it’s expected that 50% of STEM jobs will be in computer science,” LeGrand said. “Coding is a predominately white, upper middle class occupation. We’re trying to help the under-represented in Baltimore.”