Soon, officials from digital game creators EA Sports, Activision and many others may beat a path to the doors of the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, especially if the school continues to turn our prodigies like first-grader Zora Ball.
Ball has become the youngest individual to create a full version of a mobile application video game, which she unveiled last month in the University of Pennsylvania’s Bodek Lounge during the university’s “Bootstrap Expo.”
Seven-year-old Ball has also become a master of the Bootstrap programming language, and when asked, Ball was able to reconfigure her application on the fly using Bootstrap.
“We expect great things from Zora, as her older brother, Trace Ball, is a past STEM Scholar of the Year,” said Harambee Science Teacher Tariq Al-Nasir, who is also the founder of Harambee’s successful STEMnasium Learning Academy. “I am proud of all my students. Their dedication to this program is phenomenal, and they come to class every Saturday, including holiday breaks.”
Bootstrapping has many definitions. According to several technology resources, in computers, pressing a bootstrap button causes a hardwired program to read a bootstrap program from an input unit. The computer would then execute the bootstrap program, which caused it to read more program instructions. It became a self-sustaining process that proceeded without external help from manually entered instructions. In complex applications – such as the game Ball created – Bootstrapping allows for the input and implementation of a string of several complex commands. The exact incarnation of Bootstrap that Ball used was a standards-based curriculum and programming environment supported by the Foundation for the Advancement of Technology in Education. This specific program teaches students to program their own videogames and applications using purely algebraic and geometric concepts.
Harambee was one of Philadelphia's first charter schools, and has become an important and widely recognized part of the city's system of education. Since its founding nearly two decades ago by late educator Baba Skief, Harambee has been a frontrunner in community service and development. The charter school has served as a local source for visual and performing arts and has been identified as a leader in education and training programs. Harambee has earned the support of the West Philadelphia community and the recognition of state and local officials for outstanding service.
Harambee has a strong STEM-related coursework and afterschool programming. The STEMnasium Learning Academy is but one of those resources, and that program, which runs on Saturdays, is in the midst of teaching its students Mandarin Chinese, with the idea that the students will complete several business transactions in Chinatown by speaking in the native language of many of the shopkeepers there.
The Saturday classwork is a 48-week program, not including an additional eight weeks in the summer. The collaboration between Harambee and the STEMNASIUM allows any student enrolled in a Philadelphia public school to partake in the class; the program is built for 60-plus students, and the roughly 50 that are enrolled in the program are dedicated, Al-Nassir said.
“The kids love it. As an example, over the Thanksgiving holiday break, with Black Friday and all, the kids were off from school and could do whatever it is that kids do when they are home, but we had students who showed up,” Al-Nassir said. “They dedicated themselves to showing up on that Saturday. What we accomplished on that Saturday was different than what we accomplished on other Saturdays, but I was very impressed that the parents bought into the fact that we can’t take a vacation, not when we’re trying to reach people on a global level.”
Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School lived up to its namesake by hosting three events earlier this week that illuminated several African customs.
Harambee — which when translated from its Swahili origin, means “all put together” — hosted two performance assemblies and a community-wide “Umoja Karamu”, which means “Unity Feast” in Swahili. The school has hosted these events since its inception, said James Watts, the school’s math teacher who also serves as special program coordinator.
“It’s an affirmation of the community and celebration of Umoja, the first of the African principles. We’re really trying to emphasize all the principles, but Umoja is excellent because everyone is sharing,” said Watts, who noted that every student and all the staff and faculty are expected to bring in a dish for the feast. “The main principles, like Umoja and Ujima (‘collective work’) and responsibility get emphasized, as every member of the school is asked to bring in a dish. Our senior 8th graders take a special role in serving the food. I haven’t seen anything quite like this in any other school setting.”
The school celebrated on Monday and Tuesday, which included performances by the Beautifully Educated African Unified Dance Ensemble, the school choir and the NGOMA drum ensemble. The feast was held on Wednesday.
The K-8 Harambee Institute first came into existence in the mid-70s as the Independent Black Institution, which formed out of a prolonged teacher strike in the Philadelphia School District. At that time, two of the institution’s founders — John Skief and Kaleb Whitby — set up several educational hubs in West Philadelphia, and the name “Harambee” was born from that series of moves.
Harambee Institute became one of the city’s first charters schools shortly after the state passed the Charter School Law in 1997.
And staff members such as Watts make sure the school lives up to its lofty name.
“This is a material way to teach the lessons, and is something very direct, because who doesn’t love food and festivity,” said Watts. “This is a way, in the most basic sense, to reaffirm our unity and love for one another.
“Particularly at this time of year, with people celebrating family and unity. There’s a lot of love to go around, and culturally, by preparing food and eating together is way that we show we are keeping with our African principals.”
Spoken everywhere from neighborhood Asian stores to the epicenter of global commerce, Mandarin Chinese is fast becoming one of the languages that moves the world’s money.
So much so, the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology has expanded its collaboration with the “STEMnasium Learning Academy” to hold Saturday classes that teach students how to become fluent in Mandarin Chinese, along with other instructions to help these students gain a footing in the changing global marketplace. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)
“The platform is Mandarin Chinese, which is a real game-changer. These students couple with teachers who train them, and engage in a service called ‘PeerPort,’ which allows teachers to come on screen, engaging students in language exchanges and handwriting as well,” said Harambee science teacher Tariq Al-Nassir, who directs the program. “Mandarin Chinese is a trade language. We could’ve chosen any dialect, but we chose Mandarin specifically because in China and Tokyo, Mandarin is the dominant trade language, no matter what province you’re from.
“China is expected to lead the global economy in 10, 15 years, along with the lead in [STEM-related industry], and when you can speak a man’s native language, it results in a real paradigm shift.”
The class will partly culminate in April, when the students will conduct several business transactions in the city’s Chinatown district.
The Saturday classwork is a 48-week program, not including an additional eight weeks in the summer. The collaboration between Harambee and the STEMnasium allows any student enrolled in a Philadelphia public school to enroll in the class; the program is built for 60+ students, and the roughly 50 who are enrolled in the program are dedicated, Al-Nassir said.
“The kids love it. As an example, over the Thanksgiving holiday break, with Black Friday and all, the kids were off from school and could do whatever it is that kids do when they are home, but we had students who showed up,” he said. “They dedicated themselves to showing up on that Saturday. What we accomplished on that Saturday was different than what we accomplished on other Saturdays, but I was very impressed that the parents bought into the fact that we can’t take a vacation, not when we’re trying to reach people on a global level.”
And in the end, training these students – most of whom can be classified as at-risk – to meet the challenges that future global economic wrangling will present. Al-Nassir has lamented the apparent lack of American schools teaching STEM-related coursework to very young students.
To that end, Harambee’s partnership with the STEMnasium has allowed the school to teach Java coding and other high-tech programming languages, including Bootstrap. That these courses are equal to the first-year classes offered at partner schools Temple University, Carnegie Mellon, University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology can only help.
“If you pick from the cream of the crop, the students will always do well,” Al-Nassir said. “But what about the other students, the ones who are behind? The real difference is taking a child that is struggling and exposing him or her to the next level, and watching the effects.”