Our programming and design school: reducing the high school dropout rate, a bit (and a byte) at a time!

Version française ici

2018 marks the third year in a row Osedea has partnered with our local high school to offer an eight-week programming and design school to students. Our main goal with this initiative is to spark students’ interest in the technical fields of programming and UX-UI design, inspire them to continue their education in a technical field at the post-secondary level, and maybe even aspire to careers in technology.

We felt compelled to invest in creating our programming and design school when we learned that the high school dropout rate in the neighbourhood where our office is located is one of the highest in all of Montreal (Osedea is based in the trendy and ever-evolving neighbourhood of Saint-Henri). Our thinking was that if we could expose students to the fun and satisfaction that comes with learning to code and design, we might be able to encourage them to stay in school.

When you take into account the equipment and materials required, and the time spent by our developers and designers to prepare and deliver sessions, the investments we’ve made to make our programming and design school a reality have been pretty significant (especially given that we’re still a relatively small firm). But every time we see how motivated the students are by what they’re learning, and the projects they end up creating as a result of their hard work, we’re reminded of how rewarding it is to empower young people. And the fact that we might be able to help reduce the high school dropout rate is an even bigger positive for us — not to mention our community!

How the program works?

The concept is simple. The students come to our office one evening a week, for eight weeks. Our team teaches them about UX/UI design and programming for web, mobile, and chatbots. Each session starts right after school and lasts 90 minutes, with students working in teams to build their projects. We provide all the materials and tools they need, including MacBook computers.

We partnered with a local high school to execute the program as part of a class that enables students to explore different careers. We’ve had full support from the teachers, who invited us to come talk to the kids about our invitation to join us for the program, and made the arrangements necessary to grant credits towards their class as an incentive to participate.

As this was this initiative’s third year, we could take our past experience leading the school and make some adjustments to ensure our program would be as effective and enjoyable as possible, including:

  • Making the classes shorter. We used to have two sessions a week lasting two hours each. This was a serious challenge to the attention spans of the grade nine students we were hosting, so we changed the format to allow for shorter classes…
  • Integrating design into the program to interest a broader audience. By teaching students more than just coding, we expose them to a different kind of technical career that they might not otherwise have considered.

Ensuring students see a result at the end of every class. Robert Cooper, one of our developers and instructors here at Osedea, shares why we decided to do this:

“During our chatbot lesson, we told students that they would be able to present their chatbot to the rest of the students at the end of the class. This really motivated them to build out a good solution, and the students were visibly interested in making sure their chatbots worked by the end of the class.”
  • Celebrating the beginning and the end of the programming and design school. When students arrived on the first day, we had music blasting and snacks on offer, and we greeted them with a warm welcome. Upon completion of the program, we organized a graduation ceremony that featured a round of applause for every student, and presented each of them with an Osedea T-shirt and a certificate of participation.

These modifications contributed to making this year’s edition of programming and design school the most successful to date. We started with 18 students attending, and averaged about 14 attendees at each class.

The feedback from students was extremely positive. Comments such as,

“I’m gonna study hard and come work here one day,”
“It’s really cool to spend time at your office”

were common, and we were thrilled to witness their sense of accomplishment as they began to master their newly-learned skills.

One of the feedbacks received from students. Their rating for how much they loved the class was 20 out of 10! That’s pretty cool :)
“Once they had the right tools in their hands, they were able to let their creativity take the lead, and were proud to see their ideas come to life,” explains Lia Elbaz, who’s a UX/UI Designer and instructor here.

3 reasons why we can’t wait to run the program again

  • It motivates youth to pursue careers in technical fields. Our design and programming school introduces high school students to what’s involved in technical careers, and motivates them to pursue their studies in a fun and engaging way. We estimate that about half of the students who complete our program will continue in technical or multimedia post-secondary studies. We were also pleased to see that this year, close to half of the participants were girls.
  • It feels good to partner with our local high school. They’ve thanked us for taking the initiative and getting involved in positively impacting their students’ futures, and have agreed to continue our collaboration for a fourth year. Camille Gouin, Principal of Saint-Henri High School, had this to say about our partnership:
“As soon as the Osedea team presented the project to us, we knew we wanted to collaborate and offer this unique and rich experience to our students. They loved their experience with Osedea’s programming and design school team!”
  • It gives our team a way to give back to our community. We had three designers and two programmers participate actively in making this year’s school a reality. This meant planning different sessions, hosting them, and providing coaching to students. Our operations team was also involved, handling logistical details such as arranging snacks, space to house the students, computers to work on, and graduation ceremony details. And let’s not forget that this year, we also received support from Sketch. Their team provided a free license to every student who participated in the programming and design school. Having a license for the Sketch app means the students can continue working with the tool, even after the program is over with.

We’re chomping at the bit to make the next edition of our design and programming school even better than it’s been. And if offering this kind of hands-on technical training encourages a few students who might otherwise have given up on school to stick with it, it’s even more of an honour for us to be part of that.