August 30, 2021

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Technology youth camp bridges digital divide in South LA

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LOS ANGELES — Not knowing what to expect when his parents signed him up, Terrence Thomas, 13, has been attending summer camp at the SoLa Technology and Entrepreneurship Center in South Los Angeles for the past three weeks.

“I thought it was going to be like, sit down and listen most of the time,” Terrence said. “But it was like, sit down, have fun.”


What You Need To Know

  • SoLa Technology and Entrepreneurship Center in South Los Angeles offers free camp for students, focusing on technology education
  • Courses include coding, web design, virtual reality, graphic design, robotics and video game design
  • The camp is run by the “SoLa I CAN Foundation”, a non-profit that aims to inspire underprivileged youth in South LA
  • Camp organizers also hope the camp will create a pipeline of talent to fill technology jobs, which often have higher wage-earning potential

While Terrence has spent time in front of a computer, he has also learned many new skills.

“The hardest thing that I learned in camp was probably using iMovie,” he said. “It was very challenging.”

Terrence explained that his dad is a teacher who fostered his love for math and taught him at an early age how to use computers. By the time he was in third grade, Terrence was inspecting them and pretending to be a hacker.

“I found it really fascinating that I could create different websites using coding, and I’m able to use the computer easily using coding,” he said.

The chance to attend this free summer camp in Terrence’s own community really upped his tech game. He learned how to edit videos and music, pick up graphic design skills and create a business card. Students were able to use technology such as virtual reality headsets.

The free camp is run by SoLa I CAN Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to inspire underprivileged youth in South LA. The goal is to close the digital divide often seen among low-income Black and Latinx youth, a gap that grew during the pandemic and added to an existing lack of tech access in the community.

The nonprofit found that 87% of students at 13 large public high schools in the area didn’t have access to tech-related electives.

Keith Parker, a counselor and coordinator at the camp, teaches coding and noted that it’s not easy, but that students save their work online and go back to it over time.

“That’s what we’re looking at is the longevity, not just for here and now, but are you going to be able to do this when you get in high school,” Parker said. “So that’s what we’re planting, planting the seed, but also making sure that it continues.”

Parker explained that the camp can also create a pipeline of talent to fill technology jobs, which often have higher wage-earning potential. The LA tech sector is the second largest market for tech jobs in the U.S. with over 500,000 positions, according to the nonprofit.

“There is something here for every child, and the great thing about it is they are being exposed to it and they’re finding out what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he said.

Terrence went to camp three weeks in a row and loved it so much that he came back as a junior counselor to help other students.

“I’m going to miss the opportunity I had in helping the other campers,” he said. “I’m definitely going to miss a few of my counselors and just the fun.”