Eight out of 10 software developers are white and 80% of low income students drop out of college within the first year. So what do the two have in common? Both are stats that Operation: Spark founder John Fraboni, who thinks the education pipeline for the at-risk, impoverished youth demographic in New Orleans is broken, hopes to change through his new apprenticeship program for aspiring developers.
“We’re a Cafe Reconcile for software development,” explains Fraboni. Cafe Reconcile is a nonprofit restaurant that uses innovative strategies to provide life skills and job training to youth from at-risk communities in the New Orleans area. Much like Spark, the organization seeks members of the at-risk community who desire to make a positive change in their lives.
Spark helps participants become self sufficient by taking an autodidactic approach to higher education and problem solving.
For the last five weeks, Fraboni along with partners 4.0 Schools and Positive Space executed the first Spark Boot camp to teach local kids how to code. For three hours a night, four days a week, students came to learn how to design, build and deploy simple mobile apps and games, in addition to learning key life skills and professional conduct development.
Fraboni is currently one of nine teams participating in 4.0 Schools’ 9th Launch Cohort, which recruits education technology entrepreneurs from across the country to help them bring new ventures to life in under 60 days. The program culminates this week at the final pitch competition on Friday, August 1st, from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM in the IP Boardroom at 643 Magazine Street.
Fraboni also presented on Wednesday morning at the entrepreneurial networking event 1 Million Cups, exposing more of the community to the Boot camp and future plans for the startup. “It sounds like a real apprenticeship model that could work,” mSchool founder Elliot Sanchez noted following the presentation.
Spark may eventually look for office space, perhaps in partnership with developers, to kickstart the studio model in town. Overall, the program is relatively inexpensive, especially to participants, and only requires an Internet connection and a laptop, which were provided by Fraboni.
The Boot camp finale had students write their own app, a lesson plan and create a presentation to share with the crowd of peers and parents at the 4.0 Schools lab last week.
“The experience has been incredible,” Fraboni said, a comment that was echoed by one of the students who attended 1 Million Cups and told his story. He says the next step is to replicate the Boot camp in either a studio or throughout schools in New Orleans.