Inner-city kids learn coding at Bridgeport STEM program – at no cost to taxpayers

The innovative program expands to schools across the city.

John Craven

Jul 8, 2024, 9:11 PM

Updated 13 days ago


While most kids are hitting the beach or the playground this summer, dozens of Bridgeport students are learning critical engineering skills.
And the learning won’t stop when they go back to school. The innovative program is expanding to schools across the city – at no cost to taxpayers.
In a small classroom at Hall Neighborhood House on Bridgeport’s East Side, eager kids are playing “basketball.”
But there’s a catch.
Players aren’t allowed to touch the ball. Instead, they have to move it with computer code. The goal is to “teach” the ball to go through a net at the end of a game board.
“There’s an iPad that says – it says the degrees of speed,” said 9-year-old Samiyahlee Bennett.
“And seconds,” added her friend, 10 year-old Janyalise Rivera.
It’s all part of the Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center at Hall. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. This summer, 60 kids are learning all about robots, coding and even 3D printing.
“They will learn everything about the technology programming, electrical circuits – everything from soldering up to high tech,” said Bob Dzurenda, Hall Neighborhood House’s executive director. “They’re doing ratios, fractions, and they don’t even really know what they’re doing. They’re just having fun doing it."
You’ll notice something else about this class too. It’s all girls.
“Girls can do anything boys can do,” said Rivera.
The STEM program started out at Hall Neighborhood House a few years ago, but it has now expanded to a dozen K-eighth-grade schools. The goal is to be in all 28 Bridgeport schools within a decade.
“The learning never stops. It’s just going to go 12 months of the year,” said Dzurenda. “When they get back to school in September, they will see these products and they’ll know and be able to advance to the next levels.”
And none of this costs taxpayers a dime. You can thank John DeMattia, of DeMattia Properties, for that. He helped raise more than $1 million from private contributors – including the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, named after the baseball legend.
Instructors from Hall train existing Bridgeport Public Schools staff how to teach STEM, while donations pay for the technology and curriculum materials.
“We’re not giving up on the children in Bridgeport,” Dzurenda said. “There’s a lot of talent in there that just hasn’t been tapped or sparked.”
Last week, Rep. Jim Himes stopped by. He said Congress can help, too.
“This is precisely the kind of thing that an earmark is wonderful for,” he said. “They could expand this program with $400,000."
Click HERE to learn more about the Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center.

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