By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
While Latinos represent one in five workers, they represent only 7% of workers in the STEM field. Increasing this number is one of the goals of the UnidosUS CASA Code program, funded by Google, which provides Latino schoolchildren and teens with the hands-on experience in computer science necessary to prepare them for a workplace that is increasingly reliant on all forms of technology.
CASA stands for Cultura, Aprendizaje, Servicio, and Acción. The program provides Latino students with access to hands-on coding lessons, while instilling a sense of civic and community. Learning about the significance of the 2020 census, in particular how it impacts communities across the country, is a key part of the program this year.
However, like many programs that have been disrupted across the country, the UnidosUS Affiliates that run the CASA Code program have also experienced challenges. For National Census Day today, UnidosUS spoke to them about how they’re dealing with the pandemic, and the work the students have done surrounding the 2020 census.
Some of the challenges they face touch on other aspects of our work, such as expanded access to technology. For example, many families in the program don’t have access to home internet. But our Affiliate leaders are resilient and deeply committed to serving their communities. Their students are a constant source of inspiration, and in this unprecedented time, they have continued to support them as best as they can.
UnidosUS: How did you implement CASA Code prior to the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, CASA Code was offered as an elective class held four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday) for 55-minute periods. Each student had access to his/her own desktop computer in the lab to participate in CASA Code activities.” – Cecily Phalen, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, Kayne Siart
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, students met on Mondays and Tuesdays. The last week that we met was the week of March 9. That week, we brought in a guest speaker who spoke to the students about her life and journey in becoming a programmer. That week, we also began lesson 29, where students helped one another to fix any issues they saw in each other’s projects. We plan to give the students a bit more time to complete their projects before showcasing them when we return.” – Yvonne Torres, Erie Neighborhood House
UnidosUS: Are you teaching CASA Code virtually? If so, what resources have been useful?
“Currently, I am not teaching CASA Code virtually. It has been extremely challenging to reach students online and after receiving surveys back from families, many families reported that they do not have access to technology or internet. I was able to reach out to my class via Teams to conduct a meeting with four students as a check in and they all shared that they are stressing out over the amount of work they were given by their teachers. (Teachers handed out packets of work before school closure). I reassured them that it was a difficult time and to feel free to reach out for support if needed.” – Ivet González, El Sol Science and Arts Academy of Santa Ana
“We are making activities available to students. These are completely optional activities because our students have limited access to internet and capable devices.” – Elizabeth Cirigliano, Esperanza Academy Charter High School
UnidosUS: Why do you think there is a need for students to learn computer science?
“I believe computer science is inevitably going to become the forefront of education, careers, and other opportunities. As educators, we have a responsibility to offer students insight into the professional world and the advancements that are being utilized. In underserved communities, it is especially important that students gain familiarity with computer science so they can be prepared for their future careers and education.” – Kiana Vega, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation at Highland Park Community School
UnidosUS: What have your students learned about the 2020 census through CASA Code?
“Most students were unaware of the U.S. census prior to CASA Code. Through their initial work in the program, students developed an awareness of what the census is, what types of questions are included in the census, how frequently it occurs, and why it is important. Students now understand that census responses are tied to political representation, distribution of funds, and important planning including infrastructure development and resource allocation. Students are also aware that data from the U.S. census is utilized by many organizations to inform research.” – Cecily Phalen, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, Kayne Siart
“At the start of the program the students did not know much about the census; however, through CASA Code, the students have learned the importance of taking the 2020 census. They have come to learn how often one has to take the census, the three methods their families can take the census, and the overall impact it has on their communities if individuals do not take the census.” – Yvonne Torres, Erie Neighborhood House
“Students have been very engaged in learning about the census itself, many of the students did not know the survey existed prior to learning about it during session. The students read articles on what the census accounts for and how it helps their communities, and the importance of making sure their families are counted. Students learned about the history of the census, why it was created, and how often it is administered. They know how it will be administered and that there is a need for parents to learn more about the census in their native language.” – Melissa Gomez, Amistades
“Our students did not know anything about the 2020 census prior to CASA Code. They are now vocal advocates in favor of representation for the community. They are interested in the “fun facts” that we are posting with the optional coding activities that we were making available.” – Elizabeth Cirigliano, Esperanza Academy Charter High School
UnidosUS: Please describe your students’ census activities.
“Students conducted research to build awareness of the U.S. census including what the census is, what types of questions are included in the census, how frequently it occurs, and why it is important. Students engaged in interviews to gauge community awareness of the census, including common misconceptions and questions about the census. Students shared their findings in class and reflected upon how census data could impact local communities positively or negatively. Students were about to utilize skills coding in Scratch developed through CASA Code to create animations to share information about the U.S. Census, responses to common misconceptions and questions, and how it could impact the local community.” – Cecily Phalen, Camino Nuevo Character Academy, Kayne Siart
Ivet González, El Sol Science and Arts Academy of Santa Ana, reported that her students created a website and a cartoon that could be shared in order to raise awareness about the facts surrounding the U.S. census.
“The students census activities include creating their PSA projects, receiving presentations from guest speakers on what the census is, and collecting flyers with information on the census to share with their families and communities.” – Yvonne Torres, Erie Neighborhood House
“Students had begun to research community organizations and created a questionnaire to ask the organization regarding their utilization of the census. They administered their questionnaire to teachers and their parents and received some responses. Students researched several other video PSAs and began to brainstorm different ideas for their capstones. Ideas included creating several videos in English and Spanish that explained the need for the census and the security of their personal information. Students discussed creating a special Facebook group for parents at their school to access and to launch at the end of the year school assembly.” – Melissa Gomez, Amistades
Despite the challenges that the program is facing right now due to the spread of the Coronavirus, we know that our Affiliates are working hard to ensure that the students in the program are well-prepared to be advocates for their community during this unprecedented time.