This Mobile Dentist Is Giving Underserved Children Something to Smile About

According to Christy May, executive director of Miles of Smiles, 26,000 children in Clay and Platte Counties, Missouri, are without access to dental care.
That’s where her nonprofit comes in. Miles of Smiles delivers comprehensive dental services on-the-go to patients who qualify. Families earning less than twice the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for free care.
To learn more about Miles of Smiles and how you can help, watch the video above.
More: Trading Pencils for Hammers: These Kids Are Learning Math and Getting Jobs Right Out of High School

5 Ways Colleges Help Single Parents Earn Degrees

For roughly a quarter of American college students — 4.8 million of them, to be exact — life is more than just textbooks, beer and all-night philosophical discussions. Instead, their college experience comes with a side of baby books, bottles and the need for extra childcare during finals. It’s a challenging scenario, and for those raising kids without a partner, the time, dedication and money needed to graduate is even more acute. As of 2012, there were 2.1 million single moms enrolled in college, a number that has doubled since 1999. What’s more, only 28 percent of them complete their degrees within six years.
The good news is that some colleges and universities have created innovative programs to help students with kids, particularly single mothers, earn bachelor degrees, which in turn greatly improves their prospects for financial security. Their efforts can be used as a model for other institutions that want to increase the assistance given to the student-parents in their ranks.


It’s tremendously easier to get to class when you’re living right on campus. That goes double for those students who have to juggle getting themselves and their children out the door in the mornings. The College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Neb., is just one of a handful of schools that has dedicated a portion of its campus housing to student-parents, opening its $10 million Madonna Hall in 2012 to provide housing for up to 48 single mothers, with free laundry services and play areas for their kids. And parenting students at Misericordia University in Dallas, Penn., who have school-age kids can take advantage of a bus line that runs from the university’s free year-round housing to local elementary and high schools.


Though the number of on-campus daycare facilities has decreased to less than half of all public institutions, there are still plenty of options for the student-parent. For example, at Minneapolis’s St. Catherine University, the young children of student-parents in the Access and Success Program can attend a Montessori early-education program, and the university keeps a list of on-campus students available for baby-sitting. St. Catherine also provides access to dedicated lactation rooms, as does the University of Iowa and the University of Washington.

One of the ways colleges support student-parents is by offering affordable on-campus daycare.


According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 88 percent of single parents in college have incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For these students, receiving financial assistance is critical. At  Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., about 90 nontraditional students, including single mothers under the age of 25, are enrolled as Frances Perkins Program scholars each year, with 25 of them receiving full-tuition scholarships. Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business in Provo, Utah, offers scholarships to single-parent undergraduate and graduate students, both mothers and fathers. Wilson College, an all-girls school in central Pennsylvania, doles out 13 scholarships to single parents with children between the ages of 20 months and 12 years. And in addition to offering grants of up to $8,600 to parenting students, the University of California–Berkeley’s Bear Pantry, which exclusively serves student parents, provides them a two-week food supply along with a $30 gift card for fresh produce, meat or dairy.


While financial help and on-campus childcare are invaluable to single-parent students, so too are activities and dedicated spaces to keep their kids happy and occupied. At Misericordia, students’ kids can attend summer and sports camps, learn to swim, and visit the on-campus children’s garden and library. Likewise, Wilson College offers trips to Hershey Park for the hardworking families in its Single Parent Scholar Program. And the Children’s Center at Indiana University Southeast provides structured daycare that combines classroom learning with outdoor recreation, games and storytime.


To help parent-students succeed, some schools have fully integrated programs that provide not just childcare and housing, but also counseling services and parenting workshops. The Keys to Degrees Program at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., offers year-round campus housing, childcare placement and subsidies, scholarship support, tutoring, mentoring and parenting-skills courses. Endicott pioneered the program and, through grants, has expanded it to schools including Portland State, Eastern Michigan, Dillard University and others. And it’s working: Seventy-four percent of Keys to Degrees participants have earned a bachelor’s degree, and 92 percent of graduates since 2013 are now working in a field related to their course of study. In addition, the College of Saint Mary has a dedicated employee that helps moms find pediatricians and, if needed, legal aid. Its Mothers Living & Learning program offers workshops in parenting strategies, and a student group called MOMS (Many Opportunities for Mothering Solo) plans fun-filled events for mothers and their kids.

* * *

The goal of these programs and others is simple: Make life easier on the single parent who wants to study. As Autumn Green, the director of Endicott’s student-parents program, recently put it, “We try to look for students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to attend college. Students get a lot from the program, but they’re also giving a lot to the program. They’re making an investment in their future. They have skin in the game.”
Homepage photo by by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Uniting Forces Against a Digital Divide

The digital divide, an alarming technology gap in our nation’s public schools that threatens to leave children in disadvantaged districts behind, cuts across small rural towns and big cities alike.
Across the nation, approximately 6.5 million U.S. students lack connectivity to the Internet. And half our country’s teachers lack the support to incorporate technology into their lessons.
The one-hour documentary, “Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America,” directed by Academy Award-nominated director Rory Kennedy and narrated by actor Jamie Foxx, profiles schools, teachers and students who are hurt by a lack of technology access.
“There isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been touched by the innovation of technology,” Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, which produced “Without a Net” points out. “How can we not give kids the skills and tools they need to succeed as adults?”
“Without a Net” recently premiered on National Geographic and is a selection at the New York Film Festival. Watch the film now at
This post was paid for by Verizon.

Fighting Cyberbullying Can Be as Easy as Pressing Pause

Rebecca Sedwick was a victim of cyberbullying at the age of 12. Her death sparked a national conversation about how to best address cyberbullying. People began asking how parents could better manage their kids’ digital communications. “I’m aggravated that the parents aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Florida Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told CNN during the investigation into Sedwick’s death.
But Trisha Prabhu, who, inspired by Sedwick’s case, created the anti-bullying app ReThink when she was just 13, found that it wasn’t necessarily the parents’ responsibility to manage their kids’ online presence; rather, it was important for teens themselves to understand that what they say to a peer could be devastating.
“Here we are, giving teenagers this incredible power to communicate as digital citizens. And quite frankly, they’re not really equipped to make those decisions,” Prabhu, now 17, says. Her app uses an algorithm that recognizes and flags offensive language before it’s sent via text message or posted online. “There are severe consequences and lifelong scars when someone is bullied, and cyberspace compounds the effects.”
Numerous studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that manages impulse control, develops during teenage years but matures later, when people reach their mid-20s. That lack of impulse control leads to words a teen aggressor might regret. It’s also inspired anti-bullying advocates to find ways to encourage teens to second-guess their online interactions.
Prabhu’s ReThink app, which has been pushed by the Los Angeles Police Department and other organizations, uses an algorithm that is able to recognize and flag offensive language, then halt the message from being sent, allowing the sender a second chance to evaluate what they’ve written.
ReThink’s linguistic models are able to tell the difference between a user complaining about the weather, say, versus a user who’s sending a threat to someone. So for example, typing out “I hate the rain” would not be flagged. But messaging “I hate you,” on the other hand, would trigger the app’s filtering tool, which pops up when the user hits send and asks, “Are you sure you want to post this message?”
The app is invaluable to organizations that have been looking to technology as a disruptor for negative online messaging. Initial trial runs of the app found that 93 percent of teens that use it changed their minds about sending a message. ReThink now has more than 1.1 million users around the U.S.
“All the app does is shoot a question back to you, and it helps give you another filter,” says Jane Clementi, whose son Tyler was a victim of suicide in 2010 after his college roommate outed him by posting a sex video online. “I always tell people to take a breath, reread what they’ve written and if it’s not building someone up, if it’s tearing them down, I would hope that they would reconsider what they’ve written or maybe even discard it.”
Jane and her husband, Joe, started the Clementi Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing the kind of bullying their son endured. The couple has endorsed the ReThink app and appointed Prabhu to the foundation’s board.
“Technology like the ReThink app gives you a second chance,” says Joe. “And you don’t always get a second chance on a lot of things.”
The 2017 AllStars program is produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and celebrates social entrepreneurs who are powering solutions with innovative technology. Visit from Oct. 2 to Nov. 2 to vote for your favorite AllStar. The winner will receive the AllStar Award, a $10,000 grant to help further his or her work advocating for change.
Correction: A previous version of this video incorrectly stated that Trisha Prabhu had already graduated from high school. She is currently a senior in high school. NationSwell apologizes for the error.
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Teetering on the Digital Divide

At Jameira Miller’s high school in Lansdowne, Pa., using technology means punching buttons on a calculator. To use a computer, the soft-spoken senior has to give up lunch to wait in line at the media center, which only has a few desktops. Yet five miles away, students at a different school enjoy courses in computer-aided drafting design, engineering and robotics.
Welcome to the “digital divide,” the alarming technology gap in our nation’s public schools that threatens to leave children in disadvantaged districts behind. It’s the focus of Academy Award-nominated director Rory Kennedy’s new documentary, “Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America.
The one-hour film, narrated by actor Jamie Foxx, profiles schools, teachers and students, including Miller, who are hurt by a lack of technology access. The hardware shortage is just the start. Approximately 6.5 million U.S. students still lack connectivity to the Internet. Half our country’s teachers lack the support to incorporate technology into their lessons.
The digital divide cuts across small rural towns and big cities alike. The only common denominator: a lack of federal, state and local funding. Live in the “wrong” zip code and not only will your child’s ability to learn be affected, but her odds of thriving in the future will also be impacted, explains Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, which produced “Without a Net.
“There isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been touched by the innovation of technology,” Kirk points out. “How can we not give kids the skills and tools they need to succeed as adults?”
The argument, “Well, I didn’t have technology when I went to school,” isn’t valid, she says.
“When people ask, ‘Is it really necessary?’ my answer is yes,” says Kirk. “And then I ask them, ‘Who are you hiring today who can’t type on a computer?’”

UP TO SPEED: The Digital Divide in America

Through the Verizon Innovative Learning initiative, the company has committed $160 million in free technology devices, connectivity, teacher training and hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning for kids in need. So far, the program has helped 300,000 students in 1,900 schools and clubs. After measuring its impact, Kirk says, Verizon knew it was on to something big: 64 percent of kids who participated were more eager to go to college. And 53 percent decided to pursue STEM careers.
Still, “the answer to the digital divide isn’t as simple as ‘let’s give away technology to everyone,’” Kirk notes.
That’s where “Without a Net” comes in.
“We wanted to tell a story,” Kirk says. “Not about Verizon, but about the bigger issue. We wanted to take a closer look at the ecosystem [of the digital divide] — the students, parents, teachers, schools, government, curriculum, zip codes — and shine a light on what our opportunities could be.”
Kennedy was the perfect filmmaker to take on that challenge. “Giving back is in Rory’s DNA,” says Kirk, a NationSwell Council member. “She has incredible compassion for the underserved.”
The film’s narrative, and Kennedy’s focus, remains firmly on those teetering closest to the digital divide. A sixth grader in New York shows how she types out school assignments on her mom’s phone. (“A 10-minute assignment can take her an hour,” her teacher worries.) A frustrated principal in rural Pennsylvania shows off a storage room filled with brand new Chromebooks — which can’t be used since his school can’t afford Wi-Fi.
In Coachella, Calif., one of the poorest school districts in the state, teenagers spend their weekends sitting inside parked school buses outfitted with Wi-Fi routers. Since their families can’t afford Internet access at home, these buses are their only chance to go online and finish homework.

As president of the Verizon Foundation, Rose Stuckey Kirk believes that giving children access to technology puts them on a path to success, both in school and in life.

Kirk knows putting an end to tech inequality requires many factors, including reliable connectivity at schools and homes, mobile digital devices, immersive teacher training, tech-ed focused curriculum — and plenty of visionary leaders. (Those Coachella buses tricked out with Wi-Fi? They were the brainchild of a principal who saw his students struggling.)
That’s why Verizon is committed to continue handing out tablets, training teachers and offering free tech labs to kids who need them the most. And it’ll continue giving a voice to the issue with its campaign, #weneedmore.
When Kirk saw the final cut of “Without a Net,” “I cried,” she admits. The scene that touched a nerve: When Miller learns all those lunches she missed for the opportunity to use a computer were worth it — because she’s been accepted to college.
“Without a Net” recently premiered on National Geographic and is a selection at the New York Film Festival. Watch the film now at
This post was paid for by Verizon.

Republicans and Democrats Love This Anti-Poverty Policy

Historically, Democrats and Republicans have seldom seen eye-to-eye on any tax issue — except the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit at both the state and federal levels given to the working poor. Conservatives support it because it’s connected to earned income; liberals believe the government should provide financial support to needy families.
Today, an estimated 28 million low and moderate-income families could benefit from the EITC (eligibility is determined by annual household income, the number of hours worked and number of children), which is now widely regarded as the most successful way to get families above the poverty line, according to policy analysts.
As bickering across the aisle creates an impasse in our nation’s capital, lawmakers in California recently approved a bipartisan solution (introduced by a Republican, passed by a Democratic dominated legislature) that could provide a model for federal lawmakers debating tax reform and how best to help struggling Americans.


Introduced in 1975, Congress passed the federal EITC at a time many other welfare programs were being criticized for their wild inefficiencies (most were eventually scrapped). Its aim: To get people back to work and off of public assistance by returning a portion of their income tax payment.
Throughout its existence, the credit has been expanded by every president, with Ronald Reagan (who called it “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress”) backing one of the biggest increases.
In 2016, The American Action Forum, a conservative-leaning economic policy group, recognized the benefit of expanding the credit. And a 2014 House Budget Committee Report, headed by Republicans, said the credit was “an effective tool for encouraging and rewarding work among lower-income individuals, particularly single mothers.”
Despite this, Republican support has dwindled in recent years as far right members of the GOP advocate for significant cuts to government spending.
In 2014, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said he would agree to an expansion of the EITC, but only if it wouldn’t result in increased spending. (Experts said that growth of the program would inevitably mean more money would be returned to workers, costing the federal government an estimated $91 billion, based upon 2015 tax code.)
Conservatives have also argued that there’s no need to expand the EITC since an increase in the minimum wage would provide the same monetary benefits to workers.
And there is concern about fraud. The Internal Revenue Service estimates close to $13 billion in credits, or 21 to 26 percent of filings, were given out that likely shouldn’t have been.


California has been a progressive leader in sustainability practices and social programs, but until recently, its EITC efforts lagged behind states like Maryland, Minnesota and Rhode Island, all which expanded their credit programs in 2014. (Rhode Island legislators backed further expansion last year.)
“California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, counting the cost of living, and families still need to make several times the federal poverty level income to afford basic necessities,” states an opinion piece in the Orange County Register, adding that families would need a minimum wage of $31 per hour to survive in the state.
By these standards, an expansion was necessary.
In June, the state expanded its EITC to meet the minimums needed for a family to get by in one of the nation’s most expensive states, where the average rent is 50 percent higher than the rest of the country.
The expansion enables independent contractors and freelancers working in California’s gig economy to qualify for the credit, now mirroring federal and other states’ rules. It also increased the minimum income requirements from $13,870 to $22,300 so that families earning the state’s new minimum wage could qualify.


The Anti-Poverty Program That Transcends Divides, CityLab

Alleviating Obstacles to Sponsorship

Officially, a family can sponsor the person who helps raise their children for a green card, which allows that person to live and work in the United States. But the aging American immigration system has gotten in the way, resulting in a broken process in which domestic caregivers who do seek citizenship almost always get rejected.
New York City immigration attorney Charles Goldsmith says that if someone approaches his office seeking to sponsor the person watching their child, nine times out of 10 he doesn’t take the case because “it’ll go nowhere.”
As a result, the vast majority of these workers are employed illegally, making them vulnerable to low pay, workplace abuse and an inability to seek out care if hurt on the job. Families that hire undocumented immigrants are also committing tax fraud if they pay under the table.
“It’s a burden for parents,” says Marcia Hall, president of the International Nannies Association. “There are so many families that don’t understand [the laws] and how they can get in trouble if they don’t abide by them.”
Conservative lawmakers believe the answer to this situation is to focus solely on American workers. But many immigration experts say the system must be modernized for today’s workforce.

Make it more affordable

In general, people who want to sponsor a domestic worker shell out $5,000 to $10,000 — a hefty burden to many.
There are costly legal and governmental fees, plus the law requires parents to advertise in a newspaper (which can cost hundreds of dollars) to prove their child’s caregiver has distinct abilities that no other American worker has. “Advertising in print newspapers is utterly obsolete and passe,” says James Pittman, a Philadelphia-based immigration lawyer.
And what if a family and their childcare provider wanted to share the fees? Immigrants can reduce the costs by applying for a financial hardship waiver, but there’s little to help available for working parents.

Expedite the application process

Normally, it takes about eight months for the U.S. Department of Labor to process the first round (of at least three) of a childcare provider’s paperwork. During that time period, the babysitter’s 6-month tourist visa (if she had one) will expire forcing her to return home. “Many families find that domestic worker who takes care of their children and wants them to become part of the family, only to find out there really is no way to do it,” says Jackie Vimo, an economic justice policy analyst with the National Immigration Law Center.

Modify the existing H-2B program

Each year, 66,000 H-2B visas are available to non-agricultural workers without a secondary or professional degree. They usually go to seasonal employees at resorts and sometimes to landscapers or fishermen.  People can stay on the visa for 12 months and are eligible for two one-year extensions, but experts say that more should be made available — primarily because of the need for immigrants within our economy. “They’re the ones who are helping take care of our children and allowing for American women to work,” says Goldsmith.

Consider paying taxes

Many undocumented caregivers came to the United States decades ago. Some overstayed their visas, others never had them — but they were almost always in search of a better and safer life. Under current law, undocumented immigrants who have paid taxes and have proven good moral character for 10 years, plus have a legal parent, spouse or child who would “suffer extreme or unusual hardship” as a result of her deportation, can petition for legal status under section 240A(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Admittedly, no one would endorse or wish hardship on a loved one for the sake of legal residence. But paying taxes and contributing to the American Social Security system might give more political support in Washington, D.C. for a pathway to legal status for undocumented workers.
MORE: What to Do During ICE Stops

The School Where Only Addicts Roam the Hallways

A year ago, Penelope sat alone in her darkened bedroom, numbed out on drugs.
It was her junior year in high school. She’d quit the volleyball club after showing up high too many times. Her grades were mostly Cs and Ds. College seemed out of reach. And rehab? She tried that, for four months, but when she got out, she surrendered to the pressure to use again.
“I was just really unhappy unless I was high,” she recalls.
Today, Penelope (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) is a student at a specialized school in New Jersey that teaches teens how to maintain long-term sobriety—viewing addiction not as a moral wrong, but as a health issue. It ditched old ways of thinking about drug abuse as an acute crisis in favor of a model that treats addiction as a chronic disease that necessitates a lifestyle change.
The school, Raymond J. Lesniak Experience, Strength and Hope Recovery High School, only has seven students. It’s one of just 38 so-called “recovery” schools across the country, says Sasha McLean, a Houston educator who sits on the Association of Recovery Schools’s board of directors. After the failure of the War on Drugs and the spread of addiction into whiter suburbs, new ways of treating addiction view recovery as a long-term, cyclical process that includes relapses and requires new peer relationships, experts say.
Compared to 2002, teen usage of marijuana is on the decline nationwide. Yet over roughly the same period, overdoses have risen. Contrary to popular thought, the classic notion of peer pressure isn’t to blame, explains Brian C. Kelly, Purdue University associate professor of sociology. Rather, young people ponder “whether they think substance use will allow them to have more fun with their friends,” he says. In other words, teens pick their friends based on who else will smoke with them.
While empirical evidence on recovery high schools is limited, they could work by “giving kids the opportunity to hit the reset button on their social networks,” Kelly believes. Extracted from their old schools, young addicts won’t hang out with their drug-using friends and can build strong relationships with other sober youth.

At school, students make a daily contribution to a gratitude chain.

Run by the nonprofit Prevention Links, Penelope’s school is New Jersey’s first recovery high school. Founded in 2015, it integrates traditional classwork with specialized drug counseling. Operating out of a basement in Roselle Park, Lesniak High School’s tiny staff has helped 25 families cope with opioid, cannabis and alcohol abuse. “Really what we’re creating is the opportunity to build new strengths to be able to go back into that [prior] environment and deal with those temptations,” says Pamela Capaci, who opened the school after five years of lobbying.
In most respects, Lesniak resembles a regular public school. Students return home at the end of the day, and no one pays tuition. Math and language arts are taught in person; other courses are conducted online, giving Penelope the responsibility to work through the material at her own pace. Small class sizes prevent Penelope from playing hooky or zoning out in class. “That’s useful if you’re someone like me who likes to be rebellious,” she says.
A sizable portion of the day is devoted to talking about recovery. Penelope sets goals for the short and long term each week in eight categories, ranging from academics to sobriety. After lunch, Penelope and her classmates add links to a paper chain of things for which they’re grateful. If she ever feels the temptation to use, she can retreat to a recovery room to recline on beanbags or jump on a mini-trampoline. But hardest of all, Penelope reports, are the regular drug tests.
That’s because, for months after she enrolled, Penelope couldn’t kick her addiction. She knew she should stay clean. It was her senior year, her one chance to get into college. Still, through December, Penelope couldn’t stop smoking pot. “It was part of my life for so long that it made me feel safe to get away from my problems,” she says, adding, “Addiction isn’t something that is a choice. It’s something you have for your whole life.”
Penelope occasionally sneaks a puff of weed, but relapses are rare. She believes she’s far better off at Lesniak than she’d be at her old school, where she once walked in on a girl snorting a line of coke in the bathroom and the pressure to use felt inescapable.
Temptations flared, in particular, on Friday nights when Penelope’s Snapchat features a torturous live stream of drinking and smoking at local house parties. Old classmates texted her, “Want to burn?” or “Should we get wasted tonight?” Like most teenagers, Penelope struggled to say no.
“Some people can choose to get high. I really can’t stop when I do it.”
What finally changed? Penelope credits her relationship with the school’s clinical social worker and two recovery mentors who are recovering addicts. They draw on personal experiences with sobriety to commiserate and to share tips. Because they understand the tough battle against addiction, they know there will be slip-ups. Rather than berating Penelope when she got high over winter break, they stuck with her. “Recovery is not a linear process,” says program coordinator Morgan Thompson.
A visual recovery plan at Raymond J. Lesniak Experience, Strength and Hope Recovery High School.

Given the complexities youth face, the school says it gauges its effectiveness, not in how many days students stay clean, but in how many full-blown relapses it prevents. “The model allows us to catch things very early. We have kids coming to school saying, ‘I smoked pot last night, and I don’t want to do it again,’” explains Capaci. “The story of our success lies in what happens … to get them back and not experience any lost learning time. It sheds the shame and fear around their struggle to learn new behaviors.”
Penelope vouches this approach works. The fact that someone’s checking in on her makes her think twice, she says. “If I were just at home and came up with a plan, the chance of me following through wouldn’t be too realistic,” Penelope adds. “Here, when I come in every day, they check up on me. It’s a backbone. That’s really what this place is: a backbone for me.”
Penelope has clocked two months of sobriety. She’s back at the gym. Her report card is filled with As. She’s applied to six colleges where she hopes to study medicine and has already been admitted to two.
She will always be vulnerable to addiction, but Penelope now has the tools to triumph over it.

Learning to Code Is Vital for Today’s Students. This Nonprofit Helps Schools Teach It

Acerlia Bennet, a 17-year-old New Yorker from the Bronx, likes to read heady political news, often twice, from top to bottom, to make sure she’s fully comprehending the story. But she knows she’s unique: Her peers spend more time sharing memes. So at a local hackathon sponsored by Code/Interactive last summer, Bennet and three other high schoolers built a preliminary website that could translate hard news into more entertaining teen-speak. The algorithm, written with the programming language Python over a 72-hour weekend, extracts text from newspapers and replaces big, confusing words with simpler terms. “That way, they read it and know what’s going on,” Bennet says.
That type of out-of-the-box thinking — and the deep understanding of code to make it a reality — is the end goal of Code/Interactive (C/I), a nonprofit based in New York City. Since 2010, C/I has helped public schools better teach computer science. The program, which currently counts about 5,000 students in six states, is comprehensive: As early as third grade, kids begin experimenting with simple, block-based coding. By the time they reach high school, C/I is preparing them to excel on the Advance Placement (AP) computer science exam.
Besides equipping students with invaluable coding and web development skills, C/I provides teacher training and curricula for the classroom; hosts hackathons and arranges office tours at tech companies for students; and provides a select number of full-ride college scholarships, attracting those teens who otherwise wouldn’t apply for, or couldn’t afford to earn, a computer science degree.
“These computer skills are as fundamental to this generation of students as carpentry was to my father. Back then, not everyone built a home, but they all knew how to hang a picture and how to assemble a table,” says Mike Denton, C/I’s executive director. “The knowledge about tech you interact with is invaluable, and it’s necessary as these technologies become ubiquitous in every industry.”
C/I got its start in 2001 as an arts organization in the Bronx. Back then, the nonprofit was providing basic technology like video cameras, color printers and online-accessible computers to at-risk youth. By 2010, though, as more and more people gained internet access through smartphones, the mission felt outdated. Denton, then a board member, left his consulting work to revamp the agency. Under his leadership, C/I began offering an after-school coding class on JavaScript at a local community center. “We recognized pretty quickly that teaching 20 kids would not solve the problems we knew existed,” Denton says. To scale their vision, C/I turned its focus to integrating programming lessons into the school day.
C/I first works with teachers who don’t have a background in computer science or engineering, offering seminars during professional development days. Over the course of anywhere from six days to six weeks throughout the year, educators come together to talk through the coding coursework, asking questions ranging from the simple, like what HTML stands for (that would be HyperText Markup Language), to wondering if there is a way to learn coding without a computer on hand (there is).
They also learn that C/I’s pedagogical method derives from an unexpected source: foreign language classes. After all, says Denton, “Computer science, more than anything else, is a language.” So like in Spanish or German classes, the teachers coach students in “grammar,” showing how individual units must be strung together, line by line. The new coders then, in turn, put those lessons into practice as they work to build a website or design a mobile app. Later on in their instruction, students participate in the equivalent of an all-immersive study-abroad trip, diving in to collaborative projects at weekend hackathons.
As students master the new language, like Bennet has done, C/I organizes office tours to show the multiplicity of careers in tech. In Austin, Texas, for example, students might visit a cloud-storage company’s offices or an architectural firm, all of which can use the language of coding in different ways. In New York, Bennet has dropped in at Google, BuzzFeed, FourSquare and so many small startups that she can’t remember all of the names.
“A lot of times students say they want to be a lawyer or doctor because they know those are professions where you can make money more easily. But they might not be aware of the other positions that are available to them,” says Julia Barraford-Temel, C/I’s program manager for its Texas program, Coding4TX. “We bring them there so they can visualize their future.”
To be sure, C/I is not a workforce-development program. Students aren’t funneled into entry-level software testing jobs as soon as they complete their coursework. (About 70 percent of graduating seniors from C/I do choose computer science as a major or minor in college.) As a student at an arts high school focused on film, Bennet, for example, likes the idea of pursuing animation at a company like Pixar. But whichever career path she chooses, she credits C/I with strengthening her creative approach to problem-solving. “Computer science is not just a bunch of code,” she says. “It’s more about connecting through software and tech, with everyone building and creating and being more innovative.”
Denton echoes her point. To him, the main goal of C/I is for young people to understand the technology that now dictates so much of our lives. “We’re only at the beginning of the tech revolution,” he says. “By 2025, these kids are genuinely going to make a massive difference in the world.”


This article is part of the What’s Possible series produced by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal, which shines a light on changemakers who are creating opportunities to help people and communities thrive in a 21st-century world. These social entrepreneurs and their future-forward ideas represent what’s possible when people come together to create solutions that connect, educate and empower others and move America forward.

What to Do During ICE Stops

President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security are strictly enforcing immigration laws. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly recently said, “There will be no, repeat no, mass deportations,” but by law, anyone living in the United States without permission, is at risk. Even a clean criminal record doesn’t ensure protection.
“There’s effectively no prioritization,” says Andre Segura, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants Rights Project. “We’re going to see people who would not normally be detained, be detained.” Only DACA recipients (illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and were given work permits under a 2012 Obama administration program) are excluded.
If you witness immigration officers questioning someone, or are stopped yourself, here’s what to do:
Additional reporting by Hallie Steiner