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Apps in the hood: A lesson in getting L.A. kids off the streets and into Stanford

Submitted by jesse_berst on August 28, 2013

The supporting members of the Smart Cities Council are in the sector to make money. But they want to do that while making a difference. The story below is a wonderful example of the transformative power of technology. And a great reminder that the work we are doing together now can make a major improvement in the lives of the generations who follow tomorrow. -- Jesse Berst

The focus of URBAN TxT – for Urban Teens Exploring Technology – is to develop teens from South L.A. and Watts into a new generation of community and technology leaders. A recent VentureBeat report on the program that immerses inner-city kids in technology suggests it has been highly successful and in high demand. It's goal is to be a national model that can be replicated in multiple cities.

“We recruit seventh through 11th graders, a lot of whose parents don’t have high school or even middle school,” Juan Vasquez told VentureBeat (VB).  “We look for kids that have a very deep curiosity about tech and about exploring … and we help them turn that into initiative and drive.”

As the VB story explains, the program is run sort of like a tech accelerator in 15-week summer terms. But before they get started on technology, they work on team and leadership building. Then, working with volunteers and mentors, the teens start learning basics like coding and scripting and as time permits they venture into areas of interest – for instance the programming required to build apps for iPhone or Facebook. Once they have a foundation they find problems in their community they can tackle through technology. A couple of examples:

  • One team built an app that helps kids who need volunteer hours for high school graduation credit locate nonprofits and charities that need help
  • Another team created a ninja-fighting game that helps students prepare for the SAT exam

That's not to say there aren't challenges. VB tells of a 9th grader in the program who was asked if he'd like to go to Stanford. When he balked, Vasquez asked him why. “In my neighborhood," the youngster told him, "if I wear red I’ll get shot.” Stanford's school color is Cardinal red.