Philadelphia is home to another avenue for young people to break into the technology industry.
Launchpad Philly, a staff development program aimed at older high school students in the Philadelphia school district who are interested in technical fields, launched its first cohort last week with a community night.
“The purpose of tonight is really just to celebrate our young people,” said Dannyelle Austin, Executive Director at Launchpad. “This is National Computer Science Week, so we’re thrilled to be able to make this connection for young people who want to get into tech and celebrate [those who] were accepted.”
The room at Harrisburg University-Philadelphia was packed with local educators, parents, and most importantly, the 45 students who will make up Launchpad’s first class.
Ahmed Shamsid-Deen, a grade 11 student at Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School, said at the event that he used to take a computer science course but dropped it to meet other requirements. He applied to Launchpad because it gives him the opportunity to prepare for college where he wants to study computer science.
“She [Launchpad] Just give me a lot of opportunities that I look forward to and also they teach me a lot of things like coding and being a better me,” he said. “What I’m most looking forward to is meeting new people and learning all those good things that could help me build a better future for myself and my family.”
This program is designed over three years, during which students spend 18 months completing high school. For the first six months, students are expected to attend a basic business technology course one day per week after school and one Saturday per month. Austin said this first phase is “designed to be uncovering, to help them connect, to help them say, ‘Is this a path I really, really want to do?'”
The next phase is the one-on-one program every day after school. According to Austin, students who are on their way to graduation have an “early release option,” meaning they have a half-day of senior year of school and then head to Launchpad after school. According to Launchpad, this program includes “coaching, college courses, business challenges and exposure opportunities” to help students choose their career path.
After high school, they complete a tech career boot camp 30 hours a week. The final phase of the program is paid work experience at Launchpad or at a partner company.
For this first cohort, Launchpad received nearly 100 applications from 11th and 12th graders from 15 schools across the district. The 45 selected students will begin the program in January.
Austin said the organization is looking for applicants with a genuine interest and curiosity in technical areas. She said this applies to both students who have already been exposed to coding and computer science and should learn more, and students who don’t know what they want to do with their future and are interested in finding out.
“We often say it’s about helping young people get into technology, get into the industry, and thrive in the industry,” she said. “Launchpad is about helping young people have choices because young people in our community deserve choices.”
Recruitment and application for the next cohort will start again next year.
Launchpad is an initiative of Building 21, a nonprofit educational organization that also has a lab-based high school in Philly. The program also won a grant from 1Philadelphia this year. At the beginning of this first year as a programmer, Austin said she looks forward to learning from the students and seeing if the programming they plan to do, such as studio experiences and company immersion experiences, actually helps the students develop skills and make connections.
Candance Eaton, Real World Learning Director at the West Philly Workshop School, said Launchpad has shown a new path for students at her school.
“To see students get excited and see themselves years in the future in a successful place and see them thrive and live their best life,” she said, “it’s just really exciting.”
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the Groundtruth Project that connects young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.