by Susan Mernit
For us, Weebly has turned out to be that source. Like Scratch, the MIT-developed program that allows young children to learn a simple programming language, Weebly embodies many core concepts of tech development, that once learned lend themselves to other platforms. With the Hack the Hood program, young people start out building basic portfolio sites for themselves; as they learn principles of web design, search engine optimization, basic web navigation, and interface design skills, they are able to go on and create websites of increased complexity.
Because our program intends to reach a wide variety of technology-consuming young people, not only young people who have already decided they want to work in tech, it follows a philosophy of progressive learning, which predicts that as young people build skills and confidence, they will want to learn harder things. Typically, that means on Day 1, young people are thrilled to build a personal web site, and on day 5, they are saying “You mean if I know HTML I can change the footer?—How do I do that?” And then, on day 7, they’re asking about CSS and how they can learn to customize the whole site by modifying the templates.
We love the fact that all of this learning and application originates from the basic skills learned when our program’s young people use Weebly as the their foundation to create websites for small local merchants, small businesses, and community organizations. They start out developing their skills with Weebly’s easy-to-use drag and drop user experience, then do things like add custom footers, customize and shift templates, and add plugins and widgets. As they learn additional coding techniques, they expand their repertoire and can apply what they have learned to WordPress, Drupal, and other CMS platforms. Weebly is also a great starting point for young people to build on their experience and start to learn JQuery, JSON, PHP and the beginning of the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache HTTP Server, MySQL DB and PHP), essentials tools for software development today. Similarly, it’s a solid platform to build on to move into learning game development and design and transaction software. Because the Hack the Hood program focuses on responsive themes, using Weebly as a foundational platform easily clears a pathway to teach mobile and app development languages and principles.
At Hack the Hood, we’re keenly aware of the economic situation of so many of our young people and their families. Most of the students we work with make significant economic contributions to their households—they help with rent, pay for groceries, or share general household expenses, especially when adults at home are unemployed. This reality is why Hack the Hood’s vision is hard focused on making 21st century workplace skills and principles of entrepreneurships usable—we know that for many of our youth, our program is a direct pathway to better employment and a higher hourly rate of pay than they could get before the course. Whether it’s the HtH alum who got a great job managing websites and social media for a college organization when she went off the school as a freshman, or the small group of high school students who started a small web development/media business together, or the talented coder and designer who are both building websites on the side as a way to make extra money during college, Weebly is a platform that allows our young people to graduate as skilled web developers, able to serve paying clients, and our whole community
As support for helping young people move into tech careers grows (and that support is so needed), Hack the Hood remains focused on our mission: to engage large number of low-income young people of color, introduce them to the tech ecosystem, basic coding and digital literacy skills, and to move them toward well-paying jobs in tech.
For us, that means engaging not only the small segment who are already excited about being programmers (we have a lot of those), but the young people who enter our program much more involved with consuming technology than creating it. For those folks, Hack the Hood can be a revelation, because they not only find pathways to careers in tech, they actually learn about jobs and roles that fit their interest that they had no idea existed.
Or, as one of our A-team (alumni team) members recently said, “We didn’t know that there were other jobs in tech besides programmer, and as it turns out, the variety of what you can do is amazing.” For getting that process of discovery started, website building for the local community using Weebly is an ideal first step.
Hack the Hood Blog
News items and musings on tech inclusion, youth development, buying local and more.