Ten kids came into the Parkman branch of the Detroit Public Library and told librarian Qumisha Goss ’10 about their school assignment: Given $1 million, describe how you would spend it.
“All of them bought iPhones,” she said, “and mansions and fancy cars. Only two said they would spend money on college. They weren’t thinking about what they could do, only what they could have. That was an ah-ha moment for me.”
Parkman is on Detroit’s west side, in a neighborhood where kids hang out in the library for the computers and internet access. To give them an experience of creating rather than just consuming that technology, Goss decided to offer a class in computer coding.
“I knew nothing about it,” she said, “but I wasn’t smart enough to be scared.” A book-loving librarian, Goss read books on coding. The books led her to Python, an open-source programming language, and the Raspberry Pi, a hand-size computer easily programmed in Python. She attended conferences, and in 2015 was in the country’s first cohort of Raspberry Pi-certified educators.
Last summer Goss’ project for her Parkman Coders caught the attention of Microsoft. Called “Code:Grow,” the project had kids plant 10 garden beds with vegetables and herbs needed to make a pizza. The Michigan 4-H Foundation helped with the gardens. Microsoft provided funds for time-lapse cameras the kids programmed to monitor plant growth and moisture sensors they programmed to signal when their beds needed watering.
The project they’ll attempt this summer grew from one girl’s frustration with last year’s. “She said to me, ‘Miss Q, why can’t the gardens water themselves?’ Success! She was thinking about how to solve a problem. So we’ll program a garden- irrigation system.”
Six students have been Parkman Coders with Goss for four years. “Even if kids don’t stick with it, they know that coding—and lots of things— are not beyond them. The next Bill Gates might be sitting on the library stoop. The difference between them being able to make it or not is: Did they ever get the opportunity to touch the thing that really sparks their genius?”