On May 30th of this year, a group of fifteen bright-eyed L.A. students were honored as URBAN TxT's inaugural graduating class. URBAN Teens eXploring Technology (URBAN TxT) is an innovative after school program helping inner-city youth develop leadership and other skills through the use of technology. The program is sponsored by ZeroDivide, a San Francisco-based organization that assists low-income communities empower themselves through the use of technology and is the brainchild of Oscar Menjivar -- himself a graduate of Jordan High School and Cal Poly Pomona. The idea itself dates back to Menjivar's high school days who states "the program was created to develop confident and collaborative minded young men equipped with the skills to improve social and economic conditions in their community."
Using web site development as its primary focus point, program participants are taught technical, leadership and other skills critical to today's workplace. For some students, it is their first real opportunity to gain experience behind a keyboard or use the tools required to perform that type of work. Menjivar summarized it by stating "we found that lots of students that we talked to did not what a web site was, had never seen how to make a web site" and adds "but they were brave enough to try."
The program, however, aims to teach far more than the obvious technical skills.
Students originally entered the program in February by means of a formal admission process through the Watts chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. Upon entering the program, students were split into various groups and assigned a topic for their web site. Herein is where the more interesting aspects of the program come to light.
Much like the exercise of developing the web site teaches technical skills, the topics also aim at helping further other skills. The main theme for the web sites is to educate about the ills of the communities familiar to the students and some of their root causes. In doing so, the student groups are required to independently perform the necessary research to create the content. Once they've gathered the data, the students must then author the content that will eventually be published on their respective web site. Their responsibilities, however, don't stop there. A project manager within the group helps coordinate their efforts and reports back to mentors to ensure goals and deadlines are being met. Altogether, it is an exercise that helps students build communication, collaboration and project management skills.
The end result was a compelling collection of quality web sites complete with references for their research, graphics and short videos that even included a blooper reel. At the commencement ceremonies, students presented the fruits of their labor to their proud parents to much accolades.