Making a Summer Session Fun
Launchpad Summer had five core components:
- TechSmart – An introduction to Python programming
- Ignite – A community impact project
- STEM Enrichment courses facilitated by Harrisburg University
- SMART Goal setting and weekly goal check-ins
- Lunch-Pad – a guest speaker series with industry professionals
In order to maximize student engagement, all five of these components had to be exciting, dynamic, and fun every week of summer. Not only did we want to make the core programmatic elements entertaining, but we also had to ensure students came in each morning motivated to learn, build, and grow.
Every day of summer kicked off with a get-to-know-you game or small competition as part of our opening circle. These silly games would help students come together every morning, shake off any sleepiness from the night before, and get ready to work.
Time to Code!
Launchpad students taking their first dive into Python programming
After six months of Spring programming focused around tech exposure, we were eager to see how our students would react to some serious programming instruction. Both during TechSmart’s CS201 course and the Harrisburg Univerity Enrichment course, students were thrown head first into the Python programming language, getting their first taste of what it will be like to work as a programmer. At first, we had some trepidation that the increase in difficulty level, especially over summer, might turn some students off from Launchpad. Luckily, all of our students rose to the challenge and really dedicated themselves to learning Python, experimenting with it, and built some truly incredible programs over the course of summer.
There were certainly some stumbles here and there as students began picking up this new skill. We noticed that certain coding challenges required a level of math proficiency that posed a barrier for some of our students, specifically around order of operations. Luckily, students were able to help each other and use the assist tools built into the TechSmart platform to persevere and get their work done.
Ignite: Turning Ideas into Action
Guiding Students through the Design Process
One of the most exciting aspects of summer was our summer project, Ignite: Turning Ideas Into Action. This research project represented the first phase of an eight month design process where students will create a tech-enabled solution to a perceived community problem. Over the summer, our students:
- Identified a community they wanted to work in and formed project teams
- Conducted interviews with community members and online research to learn more about their community and its issues
- Brainstormed a tech-enabled solution to their community issue
- Generated a professional one-pager for their solution
- Built, rehearsed, and delivered a five minute pitch presentation to share their research and idea
This project concluded in a pitch competition on the final day of our summer programming. Students competed in front of a panel of five judges and an audience of their families, peers, and community members for a cash prize of $1,000. The event was a huge success, with 100 individuals attending and an outpouring of joy and support from community members and families for all of the hard work the students put in over the summer.
The winning teams were chosen by a panel of five judges representing the private sector, city government, and the school district. On the panel were Chris Brown, Tempest Carter, Jeff Haas, Christina Young, and Edwin Santana. In the end, Tech4Tech, a website dedicated to increasing tech knowledge in developing countries won first place. All of the students, regardless of their performance in the competition, will build their tech-enabled solution over the course of the school year.
In addition to Tech4Tech, our 2nd place team – Rhyme & Reason – won $500 for their health and beauty website and our 3rd place team – CreatiVerse – won $300 for a website to help promote up-and-coming visual artists. The prize money and the whole event would not have been possible without our sponsors – Comcast, 1Philadelphia, and Social Driver. A special thank you to our Diamond Sponsor, Seer Interactive, for hosting us and creating a warm and welcoming environment for our students.
Returning to the idea of making summer fun, what really made me feel the most proud of our work was the joy that our students showed every step of the way. Even when the code was challenging, when interviewees weren’t responding to emails, and when a team didn’t win the pitch competition, all of our students remained positive, hopeful, and in community with one another. We always remark to one another that “we have some truly incredible young people in this program” and this summer really proved it.
Nick Imparato (he/him) is Launchpad’s High School Coordinator. Nick is originally from Baltimore, MD and moved to Philadelphia in Summer of 2022. He is passionate about empowering the city’s youth with career-connected learning and future-ready skills. As High School Coordinator, he manages Launchpad’s recruitment efforts, relationships with partner high schools, and supports students as they move through the high school portions of Launchpad’s program.