When Palama Settlement announced the start of virtual coding classes for youth in June of this year, Blaze did not want to join. He had no prior experience with coding and his parents had to bargain with him to enroll in the class. Fast forward four months and Blaze is now one of the most active and enthusiastic participants, coming to each session prepared with questions and ideas to share with his peers. “At first he didn’t want to join because he didn’t know what it was,” said his mother. “I had to bargain with him to try it out and now he’s so grateful that I signed him up. He loves it!”
These virtual coding classes are an ongoing activity through Palama Settlement, taught by Anna Gustafson and assisted by Kasey Kawaguchi. The classes consist of prerecorded video lessons, which Anna films and Kasey then edits and uploads to Google Classroom so students can learn at their own pace. The youth then comes together twice a week for virtual “office hours” with Anna and Kasey, which began as a check in and chance for them to ask questions but quickly became a more collaborative, social space for students to help each other debug their projects and play together.
There are 18 youth registered in coding class at Palama, ranging from age 7 to 13 years. The self-paced curriculum allows Anna to juggle various learning levels, from beginner to advanced. For each level there is different curriculum, all developed by Anna. The beginner students work within Scratch, a block-based visual programming language, to make puzzle platform style games similar to Super Mario. The advanced students work in Unity, a real-time, 3D game creation software used by real world games like NASCAR Heat 5, Call of Duty: Mobile, and Wasteland 3.
Some students like to create marble-run games based around the mechanics of physics, while others prefer more combat-style scrolling games that make use of running and shooting actions. Anna challenges students to think creatively about how to use these actions within their games without making them violent. For instance, one student created a garden that is invaded by rabbits, but instead of chasing and shooting them, the player must feed them until they get very fat and then coax them out of the garden.
Palama’s coding class is unique in that the students guide their own learning experience. They watch the tutorials and develop their own games. Since the program is ongoing, they are able to tell Anna what they enjoy doing, what they’d like to learn next, and how they want to learn it so she can develop new curriculum tailored to their needs and interests. “Projects are not graded so there’s no pressure if students aren’t keeping up with the rest of the class,” explains Anna. “Participation is always voluntary, so it is up to the kids to decide whether they want to play in the space or not.” This level of autonomy has worked well for the class, with over half the students voluntarily attending check-in every single week and staying for the full hour, even asking that the time be extended by another hour.
The classes provide the students with much more than just coding lessons. The weekly check-ins are a chance for social interaction while school is remote and spending time together in person is impossible. One student, Kyle, told Anna he has not left his house – even for a walk – since March, but he doesn’t mind. He is the oldest and most advanced in the coding class but still attends each check-in and stays for the full session. As a teenager, Kyle is usually a little more reserved than the younger students but comes out of his shell when he is working with them to debug their games.
Coding has provided a fun and supportive space for all students, particularly during the transition of schools to distance learning. The students found the start of school in August to be overwhelming, with new demands and challenges and simply a lot of time in front of the computer. But the class is an activity they can choose for themselves, which offers an outlet for creativity, for fun, and for socialization.
If you would like to help support Palama’s coding program, your donation of $30 covers the cost of one two-hour class plus the week’s curriculum for one student. You can make your gift by visiting www.palamasettlement.org/donate or mailing a check to 810 N. Vineyard Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96817. Please make a note with your online donation or on your check that your gift is for “Coding Classes”. Mahalo!
Palama Settlement has launched a new endeavor called the Xcel Program, to provide students with the resources they need to be successful in their distance learning. Many students are struggling to attend class and complete their work now that school has moved online, due to a number of factors which may include not having access to a computer, not having access to wifi, not having a quiet space at home to focus on the class, or not having a home environment that provides enough guidance and support. Palama is hoping to address these needs by opening up the Henry & Colene Wong Computer Center and the Cecilia Blackfield Academic Center for small groups of middle and high school students. Both spaces have all the equipment students might need for class and allow for social distancing of six feet or more.
The seven students currently participating in the Xcel Program attend McKinley and St. Theresa. They are also Pakolea Program football players with Palama. Five of the seven students do not have access to a computer and none of the students have access to wifi at home. All were recruited to participate in the program through outreach to their families after the Hawaii Department of Education made the announcement that public schools would move fully online through October 2.
Recreation Director Pi`i Minns and Pakolea Program Manager Jeremiah Ostrowski (both also Pakolea coaches) oversee the Xcel Program. Palama’s Education Director Kim Corbin and Youth Specialist Sharlaine Hesira are also available for in-person and virtual tutoring when students need extra help with their work.
The staff has been actively encouraging students to participate in class and ask questions, after it was made clear multiple students were struggling with their assignments. The students are often too embarrassed to ask questions or seek help because they see it as a sign of weakness instead of a sign of strength. It was only after the coaches sat down with the youth to talk to them about the importance of keeping up with their academics that they began to ask more questions and make the effort to complete make up work.
The Xcel Program will continue until schools can safely resume in person.
This program is made possible, in part, through generous funding from Alexander & Baldwin and Douglas Emmett.
Palama’s free grab-and-go keiki meals are now available during lunch time from 11:00-12:00 PM. We will no longer be serving suppers in the late afternoon. Pick up is still in the front parking lot at 810 N. Vineyard Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96817. Just drive up and let our staff know how many meals you need for your keiki (any youth under the age of 18 years).
We have changed the time of our meals so we can serve the two youth programs that have restarted on campus – Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) and In-Community Treatment Program (ICTP). SEP and ICTP are now in session on campus in a modified format and are benefiting from the summer lunch program. Meals are still available to the general public; keiki do not need to be enrolled in a program on campus to pick up a meal.
UPDATE: Beginning April 13, Palama Settlement will no longer be serving grab-and-go lunches for keiki. Likelike Elementary will be serving breakfast from 7:30-8:00 AM and lunch from 11:30-12:00 PM for all keiki and youth under 18 years. All other lunch sites listed below will continue to serve lunches, too. On April 13, Palama will begin serving grab-and-go suppers from 3:30-4:30 PM to ensure there is breakfast, lunch, AND dinner available to children. Pick up will be the same as lunches – please park in Palama’s front parking lot off N. Vineyard Boulevard and a staff member will bring the meals out to your car.
To view the press release, please click here.
This summer, in partnership with the Women’s Fund of Hawai`i, the Association of American University Women (Honolulu Branch), and Ceeds of Peace, Palama Settlement is excited to announce Girls Talk Back, a program for teen girls focused on developing leadership, peacebuilding, social justice skills. The cohort of 20 girls will spend four weeks together, honing their skills and learning how to apply them to address community issues outside the classroom. At the end of the program, participants will present their projects and progress in a TED Talk-style forum, which they may use as an opportunity to launch both financial and in-kind campaigns to garner support for their projects.
Thanks to private funding, there is no registration fee to participate in the Girls Talk Back program. If you, or someone you know, are interested in joining this program, visit this link or click the image above to access the application form.
Girls Talk Back was created by a core partnership of Ceeds of Peace, AAUW Honolulu, and Women’s Fund of Hawai`i, who together identified gaps in the education system’s ability to develop underrepresented leaders, specifically women of color/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian women.