Crushing South L.A.'s Digital Divide by Teaching Youth to Code

URBAN Teens Exploring Technology is the only computer-programming academy in the inner city of Los Angeles.


When you think of South Los Angeles, thanks to media stereotypes, you might think of gangs, drugs, and liquor stores. But, do you think of the digital divide? South Los Angeles is a "tech desert"—a place where technology start-ups, incubators, accelerators, and tech innovation do not exist. However, for the past three years, URBAN Teens EXploring Technology, the only computer programming academy in inner city Los Angeles, has been working diligently to ensure that tech talent and an innovative culture is fostered in South L.A.

By 2020, there will be more than 8.6 million jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and currently only 16 percent of students graduate high school proficient in subjects that lead into these careers. The number is even lower in areas like South Los Angeles. That's why URBAN TxT works to ensure young men of color ages 13- to 17-years-old learn how to use coding as a tool to solve societal problems in low-income communities. We've served more than 100 teens, have a 95 percent retention rate, and 100 percent of the students that have completed our program have gone into four-year universities. Our youth are becoming engineers and business leaders.

Indeed, in the inner city where the average annual household income is about $20,000, for many poor kids, learning product development and entrepreneurship skills can be the key to having a promising future. That's why we're inspiring young men of color to be tech entrepreneurs, helping them develop critical thinking, public speaking, and entrepreneurial skills that are essential in any industry. These young men are not only learning to develop a product that solves a community problem, but also how to dream big and reach new frontiers.

The results so far are remarkable. Jesus Vargas, 17, had a 2.8 GPA before entering URBAN TxT. Now he has a 3.8 GPA, is student body president of his school, has successfully created two web products, and has his sights set on the University of Pennsylvania. "URBAN TxT opened up my eyes to entrepreneurship," Vargas says. "Suddenly, everything seems possible."

Marco Solis is a program alumnus and is now in his third year at Stanford. He never thought he could attend a school like that, but URBANTxt helped him have high expectations of himself and motivated him to apply to such a school. Now he's studying mechanical engineering. "Without my mentor, I don't think I would be at Stanford," said Solis.

We've worked with 30 youth this year, but because of capacity and lack of resources, we also turned away 120 teens who applied to the program. To ensure the success of many kids who dream of becoming tech leaders in the 21st century, we need to grow. We believe that nothing is hard, just a lot of work, which is why we're on a mission to raise $100,000 so that they can accept hundreds of teens into their coding academies.

Fifty-five percent of boys in the inner city drop out high school and 70 percent of them will either end up unemployed or incarcerated. We need to change that by giving them hope and a tool for success—computer programming. And although we're working to become a national model and help fill all those jobs in the future, we can’t do it alone. We need your help. Share this post with your networks, and help create awareness about fostering future tech leaders in South Los Angeles. Be a part of a new vibrant community of technology, excellence, and innovation that URBAN TxT is creating.

Photo courtesy of Urban TxT.

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