Technology

KC computer event seeks to close digital gap for urban core kids

Sixth-grader Robert Bond worked through problems during a math challenge at the Kansas City Computer Olympics on Saturday at the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center. This was the first year of the event.
Sixth-grader Robert Bond worked through problems during a math challenge at the Kansas City Computer Olympics on Saturday at the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center. This was the first year of the event. Special to The Star

The Kansas City Computer Olympics had a few missteps in its inaugural run.

For example, somehow the olympic torch was lost before it was delivered to organizer Geroge Walker’s front door.

But the goal wasn’t ceremony — it was to get urban-core kids interested in computer science.

And for a first effort, Walker and master of ceremonies Wilbur Dunnell, aka Dr. H2O of the Kansas City Water Services Department, were pleased with the turnout and the enthusiasm of the nearly 35 kids who participated.

“You’re looking at future greatness here,” Dunnell said as the olympics competitors, sans torch, marched into the auditorium of the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center to the same theme music they play on TV for the summer and winter games.

Then for the rest of the afternoon, the group of kindergartners through eighth-graders scattered throughout the building to solve math problems and learn basic computer coding skills that could someday lead to a career.

Co-sponsoring the event were Time Warner Cable and the group Walker heads, the Black Family Technology Awareness Association of Kansas City.

After retiring recently from his job of 43 years at AT&T, Walker took to volunteering more in the community. Among his aims: bridging the digital divide that leaves those with lower incomes with fewer opportunities to use the latest technology.

He wants African-American kids in particular to recognize that there’s more to computers and mobile phones than playing games and communicating with friends. Technology could become a future career.

“We get kids into thinking about building and coding, and not just consuming,” he said.

Unfortunately, through a bus mixup, about 20 kids who’d registered were unable to attend.

But seventh-graders Briaunna Simms, Kirby Roach and Cordell Marshall made it to spend a warm fall Saturday afternoon inside the DuBois center. They leaned in close as computer teacher Tyler Watts introduced them to a game called BotLogic, which teaches the most basic computer coding skills.

“I like programming,” said Briaunna, a student at the African-Centered College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City.

But like Cordell, who attends Smith-Hale Middle School in the Hickman Mills district, Saturday’s competition was the first time she tried her hand at it.

Kirby had at least some previous experience.

“I came to see how much I don’t know,” he said.

By this time next year, Walker hopes there will be a second Kansas City Computer Olympics. Complete with torch, assuming UPS finds the one that got waylaid.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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