Minnesota Community Education Association

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Building the next generation of educators.

Building the next generation of educators.

The pandemic has impacted children in many ways, from disrupted school schedules to children falling behind in school. Edina High School students started seeing these issues and decided that they wanted to do something about it. Three students, Sreeyutha Ratala, Saketh Budideti, and Kedar Simhadri, reached out to Community Ed with their idea to connect with youth and try to help solve those issues.

Sreeyutha used her love of coding to create a free python coding camp for kids called Camp Venom, which lasted two weeks with 53 campers. During the camp, students acquired fundamental programming skills through coding lessons, creative projects/worksheets and exciting games.

“I loved the experience because I got the chance to work directly with kids and inspire these future coders in the same way other volunteers inspired me when I was a kid. In other words, my experience came ‘full-circle’,” Sreeyutha explained.

She created the camp after witnessing kids in her neighborhood missing STEM enrichment opportunities due to costs or lack of access. Once she created the first camp, there were so many registrations that she couldn’t accept 40 percent of the applicants due to lack of space and volunteers. Sreeyutha is now partnering with Community Ed to create a 10-day Camp Venom during the summer to expand the reach of coding education.

“Kids are far more capable and intelligent than most think. It was shocking to see campers as young as seven years old, coding interactive calculators and programs that play Rock Paper Scissors,” Sreeyutha explains. “I would love to give more students the opportunity to go from thinking coding is too ‘boring’ or ‘hard’ to realizing how ‘interesting’ and ‘cool’ it really is.”

While Sreeyutha saw kids missing out on STEM opportunities due to cost, Saketh and Kedar observed a large gap in the development of young children due to the pandemic. They saw kids missing out on many experiences that kids in the past were able to do. The two students wanted to help fill that gap through one-on-one connections.

Saketh and Kedar worked with Kayla Maring, the Youth Development and Volunteer Program Supervisor for Community Ed, to create a program that would give students a chance to connect and learn after school. The students created Hornet Mentors, which is a safe space for Kids Club kids to spend time with high school mentors and to learn about issues and skills outside of their bubble. The program will be expanding to more schools.

“As a high schooler, it can be intimidating working with high-energy kids after school, but Saketh and Kedar have stepped up and impressed everyone. They come in each day ready to lead the younger kids through various activities,” Kayla describes. “They want to ensure that their club makes a positive impact in the district and is meaningful to everyone; them, their peer mentors, the kids, and the staff.”

While Saketh and Kedar are enjoying the opportunity to work with kids and share their own experiences and skills, they are also learning from the kids.

“It might sound like a cliché, but they really do teach us as much as we teach them,” Saketh and Kedar say. “It forces us to adapt and find new ways to share perspectives, a skill becoming more and more important as the world becomes increasingly polarized.”

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