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ConnectVA Spotlight: Maggie Smith, CodeVA

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Maggie Smith, and I am the Director of Children’s Programs at CodeVA. My background is in arts education and curation. My career had been focused on fine craft from involvement in the creation of the organization of Cabbage Town Clay & Glassworks, a neighborhood community art center in Atlanta to curating an exhibition of recycled jewelry from a program called The Radical Jewelry Makeover; I have always enjoyed learning and teaching about craft. CodeVA has given me the opportunity to combine my love for craft and education by providing me the challenge of creating arts integrated computer science curricula. Computer science is a craft in the sense that people are creating a “thing” that is useful for other people and enhance daily life.

What is the focus of your work, the need you are addressing?

CodeVA’s mission is to provide equitable computer science education to all students in Virginia. Through our children’s programs, we strive to provide fun and engaging activities to excite both students and parents about computer science. We offer Summer Camp, After-school, and other outreach arts integrated experiences.

A picture taken at CodeDay in May 2018. CodeDay is a student run worldwide event where student programmers, artists, musicians, actors, and everyone else can get together and build apps & games for 24 hours.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

Coming to CodeVA was quite a career switch for me. The thought of working with computer science was initially very intimidating. I quickly realized that feeling of intense “not for me,” and intimidation is a part of the educational conflict CodeVA is here to neutralize.

Using hands-on art activities to get students excited and confident in the human side of computers has been a refreshing challenge. The most rewarding part of my job is watching my staff create positive connections with kiddos from a wide variety of communities.

What are some major challenges you have faced?

As our organization has grown, my biggest challenge has been a beautiful problem to have, how to keep up with demand. This session will be our 5th year offering summer camps, and luckily the program gets better each season. I am very fortunate to have an all-star staff that has supported our growth and maintained a mission focused program.

What’s a misconception the public has about your work?

Coming into CodeVA, I had several misconceptions about computer science. I find many adults have similar misconceptions when it comes to their student’s computer science education. When speaking to parents at events I often hear two statements that indicate a disconnect between computer science education and technology in general. One is that their student does need STEM education because they a wiz with a smartphone, or alternatively that after a week of camp their child should be fully versed in all text-based programming languages. Computer science is why and how we use computers. By aiming for 50% on and off-screen activities, we are providing experiences that will hopefully open student’s minds to problem solving, creativity, and making. Computers are not smart; they are following directions given by people. It’s pretty fun to imagine the possibilities. I love seeing kids make discoveries in the classroom. There is a confidence and excitement in knowing computers are tools made by humans for humans. CodeVA is here to introduce computer science to young learners and possibly stir up some curiosity that encourages them to seek developmentally appropriate coding education.

Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?

Summertime is our busiest and most exciting season. This year we will be serving students from all over the city through summer camps and off-site workshops. Simultaneously CodeVA’s teacher training programs are expanding this summer in anticipation of the new Computer Science SOLs that go into effect in the 2019 – 20 school year. We are offering training in six locations across the state for K-12 public school teachers. We have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Our partnerships are one of the reasons I have so much fun at camp. Through support from our generous fiscal sponsors, we can provide approximately 45% of our student’s financial aid. We partner with several organizations such as St. Andrew’s School, Friend’s Association for Children, Richmond Cycling Corps, STEP, Mosby Court Tenants Association, and Gap 4 Lyfe. Growing our community brings so much to our educational environment that allows everyone to grow.

How are you leveraging the Community Foundation to achieve your mission?

I feel very fortunate that my staff, as well as myself, have been able to participate in educational and professional development opportunities provided by ConnectVA and the Community Foundation. The Community Conversations have been helpful in bringing essential and timely topics back into our space and continuing the conversation with our staff.

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