Upperline School of Code’s Upperline School of Code is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: Students ages 13–18. The organization is increasingly working with underserved students in New York City, such as through one-week intensive workshops for 250 10th graders through SEO (Sponsors for Economic Opportunity, a college access organization that generally works with Black and Latinx first-generation-college students) and another intensive for about 450 women entering their first year of college at CUNY (through WiTNY, Women in Tech and Entrepreneurship in New York)
Number of participants served: 300 in summer 2018; 1,000 in summer 2019
Location: Curriculum/professional development consulting: Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts, the Dwight School
Frequency/Duration: Summer intensive: 5 sessions, 2 weeks. Professional development: half-day, full-day, and multi-day sessions; twice-yearly exposure workshops for non-CS teachers
Curriculum: Standalone programming and software development courses. The curriculum is very hands-on and skills-based, focusing on full-stack web and mobile applications. “We focus on the languages that developers use in the real world” and “on teaching [students] skills that will last beyond high school and that they can [use to] get an internship right away,” said founder Daniel Fenjves.
Partnerships: DOE/CS4All, Google, JP Morgan, Prep for Prep, SEO, Code Nation, Kipp, Success Academy Network
Cost: Summer 2-week courses: $2,100. In 2018, 37% of Upperline students received scholarships or financial aid for classes; Upperline reserves approximately 20 percent of seats for need-based and diversity-based scholarships.
Sources of funding: Mixed: DOE/CS4All funding curriculum development and teacher training work that Upperline is doing for DOE; other funds from tuition for traditional summer camps; nonprofit and corporate partners that contract with Upperline.
What makes the program stand out? Class sizes are typically 15 students and do not exceed 20, and Upperline has 2 teachers and a teaching assistant in every course. About half of Upperline teachers have never taught computer science before; they’re put through an intensive training and then paired with more experienced teachers to lead summer courses. “Our philosophy is that it’s much more effective to take an excellent teacher and teach them to code than it is to take a developer and teach them to teach. Those soft skills and classroom management are a lot harder to teach,” said Fenjves. “That’s a way that we sort of give back, because there’s a huge shortage of computer science teachers and the pipeline is really small.” Upperline has seen many of those newly trained CS teachers, often math or science or English teachers, “actually go back to their school and start a computer science program.”
What do participants need to succeed? “Learning to code is hard. It’s scary for many people. And there’s a lot of resistance, especially for students who may not see themselves as coders. Generally, women or students of color,” said Fenjves. To help students thrive, Upperline goes above and beyond to cultivate a classroom culture “where students feel very comfortable asking for help, making mistakes, reaching out to peers, as well as to teachers.” The organization uses improv exercises and “teacher vulnerability,” which is aided by having non-CS teachers in classes. Projects also integrate students’ interests with the technology they’re taught during a course.
What does the organization need? ”Finding affordable space in the city to run the classes is hard.” Another big challenge is finding qualified teachers who can train new teachers. “It’s quite expensive to train a new teacher,” said Fenjves.