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Bronx Students Develop App to Help their Neighborhood

Over the past few years, computer science programs across the country have tried drive home one clear message to young people: Coding is cool. Reporter Courtney Vinopal visited one Bronx high school as it prepared to give a major presentation on coding to the community. Here, students are developing apps to help their neighborhoods.

It’s a Thursday morning at the Bronx Academy of Software Engineering, or BASE. As the bell sounds, students file into the large brick building right around the corner from Fordham University, their voices echoing throughout the hallways.

((SOUND bell + students (0:11))

Inside, computer science teacher Jon Mannion is impressed by the features of an app his students are designing.

((Sound: Jon discussing app with Daniel and John) So there’s a geolocation part of it – are you serious? This is like a large, ambitious… (0:12)

Mannion’s students are preparing for Computer Science Education Week, when they will present their work to Bronx officials and tech leaders in the community. Daniel Pepin is a senior at BASE. He’s part of the first class that will graduate from this Computer and Technical Education school, which opened in 2013. Pepin’s app will connect Bronx residents seeking medical treatment with hospitals and health resources.

PEPIN 1: Our app helps identify certain problems that people are having health-wise. It allows them to identify where to go and how long it might take in certain emergency rooms. (0:14)

The Bronx faces significant health challenges, with higher rates of asthma, heart disease, and diabetes than the national average. Pepin and his classmates can develop apps that focus on issues like these because they have spent the past three years learning computer languages. Teacher Jon Mannion explains.

MANNION 1: Last year we had a student learn about 5 languages…JavaScript, Query, C++, Java. AS (0:08)

Manion is the workplace coordinator at BASE. He says many of his students are from low-income or immigrant backgrounds. Knowing how to code puts them ahead of many of their peers, and even other adults, in the workforce.

MANNION 2: With technology, there’s a huge market for jobs. (0:04)

Mannion can see some of these kids getting a job right out of high school, earning some money, and then going to college.

MANNION 3: Some extra years of maturity and perhaps learning, I think would be a great idea for many of our youngsters. (0:08)

Coding has the potential to take these students anywhere. But for now, they are focused on their own community. Shadman Chowdury, a sophomore at BASE, has been working on a fitness tracker since July. His app is called hashtag #Not62. That’s because the Bronx was named the 62nd least healthy county in New York last year. Chowdury’s app counts Bronx users’ total number of steps. The idea is to encourage borough residents to get fit together.

CHOWDURY 1: We’re going to add up the steps how many people total goes. We’re trying to build an app to make the Bronx a healthy place to live. (0:08)

Chowdury is from Bangladesh, and he moved to the Bronx less than two years ago. Nevertheless, he’s invested in the issues that affect his new hometown. Shamar Dacosta grew up in the Bronx. Last January, he and three other students developed an app to monitor police brutality called Protect and Swerve. It allows users to record videos of police encounters and upload them directly to the app.

DACOSTA 1: We go through these problems everyday…and we go to a school that teaches us to build apps to solve the problems, so it feels great to do that. (0:08)

BASE students are busy problem solving in the days leading up to their presentation to Bronx officials. Rodolpho Gonzalez, another BASE senior in Mannion’s class, doesn’t mind putting in extra time to finish projects – that’s what learning is all about.

GONZALEZ 1: Learning should be, like, an experience you pursue because you yourself want to. It should be something you’re passionate about. (0:13)

He says that’s why they’re at the school in the first place.

Courtney Vinopal, Columbia Radio News.


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