Jonathan is the exception to the “rule.” The 15 year-old is a sophomore at Locke High School in South Los Angeles, and he is breaking all the stereotypes of what a kid in Watts would be doing in the 10th Grade. He is not rapping, skipping school, or dreaming about an NFL career. Instead, he is finding solutions to community problems through computer programming and iPhone app development.
Even though the words “Watts” and “South Los Angeles” are associated with crime, drugs, and violence, Jonathan is redefining what the future of Watts will be associated with - technology. Raised in Watts, this young man is part of a movement that is redefining how one builds positive communities through technology, grit, and excellence.
Jonathan’s story is unique because you wouldn’t expect that a child born to a low-income immigrant family would have such an insatiable appetite for coding. Up until a few weeks ago his home lacked Internet connectivity and the one computer the family owns is passed around between Jonathan’s parents, himself, and his two younger siblings. Simply said, he hasn’t had many chances to explore technology, much less iPhone app development. Even with all odds against him, Jonathan is becoming a technology pioneer in his community.
Jonathan’s work ethic, desire to succeed, and willingness to be mentored is helping him overcome the reality that only 60% of students graduate in LAUSD schools, and incarceration rates for high school drop outs can be as high as 75% in areas like South Los Angeles. Jonathan is a true role model to other teens in the inner city.
Jonathan has used coding as a way to learn how to learn, and to develop discipline, confidence, and a vision. And he is not alone. There is an entire generation of young men of color from South Los Angeles who are working to become tech entrepreneurs.
Now in his second year with URBAN Teens eXploring Technology (URBAN TxT) Jonathan knows a variety of programming languages, but during the 2013 summer coding academy he took his skills to the mobile space.
The iPhone app Jonathan built is called LA Volunteers. Jonathan describes the app as the “go-to resource for teens looking to find the perfect volunteer opportunity in Los Angeles.” Jonathan dedicated hundreds of hours to developing a solution for high school students. “My goal is to help teens fulfill their volunteer requirements for graduation and scholarships while having the best volunteer experience possible.”
Mentorship played a big role in Jonathan developing the iPhone app LA Volunteers. Kyle Baxter, a mobile app developer and volunteer for URBAN TxT, held a few beginner workshops during the spring. Once the summer started, Jonathan and Kyle kept in touch through an internal private network, social media, and Google Hangouts.
Kyle did not donate his time because he had to, but wanted to. “I enjoyed meeting all of the URBAN TxT teens, but Jonathan had a focus and a desire to learn that made working with him easy and enjoyable,” explained Kyle.
Jonathan was not only learning to code but also learning how to develop solutions through code. Kyle saw this first hand whenever Jonathan would come to him questions. “Whenever he’d ask me anything he had already broken the problem down and looked for different solutions, he had done his homework and that was inspirational to see. He didn’t want me to tell him and answer, instead be wanted me to help him learn how to find the solution.”
Jonathan is one of the only sophomores in Los Angeles that is developing for iPhone, and he has his eyes set on top computer science programs for his undergrad. “My goal is Stanford. Before URBAN TxT I never thought about going there,” explained Jonathan. “But after touring the campus and all that I’ve gone through with URBAN TxT, I know I can go out there and make it happen.”
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Blog written by Juan Vasquez, Communications Coach and Director of Communications for URBAN Teens eXploring Technology. URBAN TxT is a nonprofit organization setting the tech world on fire by inspiring teens to become tech entrepreneurs.Through coding, teens in URBAN TxT learn entrepreneurship, leadership, and public speaking. To learn more about URBAN TxT visit www.urbantxt.com. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanSVas and URBAN TxT at @URBANTxT.