People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla Teen Code Teaches Computer Science to Underprivileged Students
Athena Coco Hernandez has been running coding programs for children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to such classes since she started high school at La Jolla’s Episcopal School.
Her program, called “Codificar con Coco,” which translates from Spanish to “Coding with Coco,” teaches Tijuana public primary and secondary school students to code in the computer languages Python and Switch.
A 17-year-old senior who is bilingual in English and Spanish and of Mexican descent, Athena also tutors students in public schools in Chula Vista and San Isidro.
“My goal is to make computer science accessible to the underprivileged,” said the La Jolla resident. “At Bishop’s, high school gives him a great opportunity to study computer science for four years.”
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According to Athena, non-English speakers find coding difficult because they have fewer opportunities to learn to code.
Also, the coding language commands are written in English, so “you have to teach them English at the same time,” she said.
Athena teaches virtual coding sessions every week, and more frequently during summer vacation.
For her efforts, which she estimates will take a total of 600 to 700 hours so far, Athena was recognized earlier this year as one of 40 Aspirations in Computing winners out of more than 3,700 applicants nationwide by the National Center for Women’s Information Technology. was selected as one of
According to the award website, winners will have “a combination of technology and technology demonstrated by their computing experience, computing-related activities, leadership experience, tenacity in the face of barriers to access, and planning for post-secondary education.” They are chosen based on their aptitude and aspirations in computing.”
Being honored gave Athena “the confidence to continue pursuing what I’m doing” and the opportunity to connect with girls with similar goals, she said.
Codificar con Coco evolved from the Global Milestone Club, which Athena co-founded with Bishop students Crystal Lee, Will Keefe and Sasha Berger in spring 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The club is an online platform that provides tutoring and other academic resources to students around the world.
While the Global Milestone effort is ongoing, Athena quickly launched a programming program focused on teaching computer science in Spanish.
Her father works at a hospital in Tijuana, so Athena advertised the coding program there. She gave it away for free to registrants.
“Education should be free, so I don’t want people to pay for it,” said Athena.
Athena plans to pursue computer science in some way at university after joining a cybersecurity study through New York University in December. She said these plans would likely be narrowed down and focused on improving access to computers her science for Mexican and Spanish-speaking students.
Learning to code also helps bridge the math education gap between Tijuana and San Diego.
Athena’s coding classes started with 3 or 4 students each and grew to 10 students waiting to join.
Increasing student numbers is a challenge, she said. She said, “If you increase the class size, you sacrifice the comprehension of other students.”
She said she was looking for a bilingual person to help.
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