Jefferson Award Winner Founded Computer Programming For AllBy Sharon Chin

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) On a recent sunny afternoon, a group of Laurelwood elementary school students quickly scampered into an afterschool class that has proven so popular, there is a waiting list to get in. That’s because these lucky boys and girls are not just mindlessly surfing the web or playing video games. Instead they have been designing their own PacMan-like games on school computers.

It’s all thanks to 17-year-old Rushil Kapadia. The senior at Archbishop Mitty High School created a fun way to introduce underserved kids to computer programming, by utilizing video game design technology. Kapadia himself learned basic coding in the third grade. And when Kapadia was 13, he was shocked to find out that even in Silicon Valley, many students do not get any exposure to gaming, coding or programming until high school or even college.

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“And then I was actually like, ‘Wait a minute, I can do something,” explained Kapadia. “I can become a volunteer and actually just start these classes. And I can be the person to make the change that I want to see.”

So Kapadia founded the nonprofit Computer Programming for All, or CPFA, to teach elementary and middle school students coding for free. He developed his own curriculum, based on Scratch software.

And school principals like Dr. Hong Nguyen at Laurelwood welcomed his expertise. Nguyen has attended every class Kapadia has taught so far, in the process learning some basic coding herself.

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“He is very passionate about what he wants to do,” said Nguyen of Kapadia. ” And he really gets the kids here passionate also.”

That passion may prove crucial to the economic future of these kids in more ways than one can imagine. United States labor statistics indicate that there will be almost 1.5 million new computer science jobs by the year 2020. That’s the good news. The bad news: projections also indicate that there won’t be enough qualified candidates to fill those jobs. So classes like Kapadia’s, and educators like Dr. Nguyen, are paving the way for today’s ten-year-olds to compete for the jobs of the future.

“Seeing all these students making their own games and coming up and showing me excitedly, ‘Look, I made this game myself!’ said Kapadia, “I’m really excited about that.”

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It’s an exciting and time consuming project for Kapadia. He’s spent about 600 hours working on CPFA ventures, and has reached more than 200 students in 15 coding clubs throughout the Bay Area. Kapadia, also an Eagle Scout and basketball coach, even organized a hack-a-thon last year, supported by private and public donations, that raised $5000 for local schools. His dream is to take CPFA worldwide. HIs first stop: a newly opened CPFA branch in Austin, Texas. Kapadia says he wants to hear from anyone who would like to start their own CPFA chapter.