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Code Next students merge computer science and activism

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At this year’s Google Code Next Hackathon, students used computer science know-how to build applications that they hope will make a difference in the world. They pitched and presented projects like “AirFreeN’Free,” a website to fight the housing crisis in the Bay Area, “Know Your Rights,” which looked to inform citizens of their rights when stopped by law enforcement and “Equal Income,” which informs citizens on the gender pay gap. 

Code Next (a Code With Google program) is a free computer science education program for Black and Latinx high school students. The program works in communities to inspire students and equip students with the skills and education necessary for careers in CS. The two-day Hackathon, which took place in both Oakland and New York City in June, is one of the program’s most anticipated events of the year. Students use the knowledge learned in the classroom to come up with ideas, develop them and pitch prototypes. 

This year, students were challenged to develop a mobile or web application that addressed social justice, inequality or the environment. 

Day one of the Hackathon centered on ideas. In Oakland, a workshop was led by Anthony Mays, an advocate for inclusion and diversity in tech. He cheered the students and encouraged them to trust their instincts. “Whatever comes straight to mind.” Mays instructed the students, “I want you to write it down.” 

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    In Oakland, students spent time writing down ideas for apps that addressed inequality, social justice or environmental issues. 

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    Code Next students began mapping process plans for their prototypes.

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    With the help of Code Next coaches, students began building the backend of their applications. 

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    The group STEN presents their web application. to the judges’ panel.

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    Students gather in an energizer activity on the second day of the Hackathon in Oakland.

Day two centered on the coding and preparation for the pitch, which occurred at the end of the day. 

“We do discuss what we want to do for the world and how to save it, but we don’t usually pitch like this,” says Merelis Peralta, a Code Next student, whose “Police Brutality” app won third place in New York City.  “Having to pitch about how we want to help our community and make them safer opens our voice.” 

Both of this year’s winners addressed the environment. In Oakland, Code Next students Adesina Taylor, Luis Sanchez, Jacob Sonhthila, Xzavier Ceja and David Ung took home the first place prize. The team, which called their project “STEN,” created a web application that allows users to buy and distribute stone paper, an alternative to paper made from wood, as a means to fight deforestation. 

In New York, students Mohammad Hasan, Mohammed Ibrahim, Andy Asante, Alexander Leonardi and Rafid Almustaqim won first prize with a mobile application, “NextGen Carbon,” that tracks pollution levels. The app places users in competition with one another by tracking their day to day carbon emissions, encouraging them to reduce their numbers. 

“We want to emphasize that there are people that know what global warming is,” Andy says. “They just don’t know what causes it. Our app informs them.” 

At the conclusion of the two days, the students celebrated their achievements, their hard work and the challenges they overcame as a team in front of their Code Next mentors, coaches, family and friends. 

“After trying Code Next, I found out that although CS might be hard, it’s fun at the same time,” says student Ayan Cooper. “I want people to see that that it’s meaningful.”

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