Harambee first-grade programmer Zora Ball
(Philadelphia Tribune Photo/Harambee Institute)
by Damon C. Williams
Philadelphia Tribune Staff Writer
(PhillyTrib.com)–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.”
(Contact Philadelphia Tribune staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)