This past year for Code Haven can be characterized in many ways. It was innovative, as we set out to translate the organization’s initiatives into their virtual equivalents. It was progressive, as we pushed forward and made progress on goals that we hadn’t previously devoted time to. It was also record-breaking, because despite all of these logistical challenges and adaptations, Code Haven in 2020 achieved our largest reach and membership to date. Our team of 65 mentors taught nearly 200 students across 8 virtual classrooms.
Throughout this journey, we - Bernardo and Maansi - have learned so much and have plenty to be grateful for. What seemed like a dire situation evolved into an immense opportunity for growth, and the changes that we have made this year have the potential to shape the organization for years to come. As we wrap up our tenure as co-presidents of Code Haven, we would love to share our reflections on the past year and our hopes for the future.
As members of Yale’s Class of 2022, the two of us have had a long journey with Code Haven. We both joined as soon as we entered campus in the fall of our first-year, and our passion and sense of dedication to the club has grown steadily since then. Before deciding that we wanted to become co-presidents at the end of 2019, the two of us served in the positions of Events Director and Treasurer, and between us had 8 semesters of experience in mentoring and leading classrooms. As co-presidents, we took on the responsibility of fostering Code Haven’s values, setting goals and priorities for the coming year, ensuring the well-being of our members, and leading the organization through any unforeseen challenges. We were committed to doing whatever we could to work towards our mission of inclusively increasing access to computer science education, but we had no way of predicting the obstacles that were ahead of us.
When we started our presidency, the two of us, along with the rest of Code Haven Board, brainstormed an ambitious set of 3 goals that were meant to guide us throughout the semester. Two of the goals - mentor engagement and expansion - were carried over from our predecessors who made significant progress that we wanted to build upon. We were committed to energizing our entire team of mentors and making sure we all connected with the organization’s mission. We also knew that with our growing popularity on campus, we had the potential to reach more students than ever before. Our last goal, public image, was unique to 2020 and required the creation of two new positions on our board - Outreach Directors. We tasked the outreach directors with boosting our online presence both through increased social media engagement and an entirely new, user-friendly and up-to-date website. However, the main long-term goal of the outreach directors was an entirely new initiative that we never had the bandwidth to pursue in the past: the creation of an open-source curriculum.
Since Code Haven’s creation, we have consistently had more demand from classrooms than we were able to meet with our limited supply of mentors. It quickly became clear that if we wanted to continue to reach more students, we would need to find a way to give students access to computer science education without the need for mentors to physically be in the classroom. Through our experiences hosting our annual TeachTech conferences, we knew that there was a great desire among teachers to bring computer science to their classrooms, but many of them lacked the knowledge and/or resources to make it a reality. We hoped that by converting our curriculum into a comprehensive set of week-by-week lesson plans, presentations, activities, worksheets, and solutions, we would be able to help some of these teachers. We also hoped that by making our curriculum open-source, we would be able to benefit from their feedback.
With these goals in mind, we both spent countless hours leading board discussions and meeting individually with team members to plan for the coming year. We drafted timelines for all of our milestones and set a schedule for our spring lessons. However, if there’s one thing that this year has taught us, it’s that plans only mean so much and it’s unlikely that everything will go as anticipated. In spite of the many changes that had to be made along the way, we’re glad that we were able to maintain the spirit of all 3 of these goals.
Throughout the chaos of the past year, one thing that remained steady was the dedication that each member had to Code Haven. While the two of us made a lot of tough decisions and dealt with logistical nightmares along the way, the reality is that our mentors and board members keep the organization thriving. We would like to highlight some of the things that we were able to accomplish together:
Events: At the beginning of 2020, we took on 3 new events directors: Anna, Eden, and Justin. The three of them immediately got up to speed and hosted our TeachTech 2020 conference which had record attendance and received great feedback. This fall, they planned and hosted our first virtual Demo Day event, with over 150 of our students attending synchronously. With a virtual campus tour, student speakers and panelists, engaging design activities, and a special talk from a Yale computer science professor, the event was a grand success and got our students thinking about their futures with coding.
Mentor Management: Much of our progress towards our goal of increased mentor engagement can be attributed to our hardworking and creative mentor manager, Mary. Before we left campus, Mary started creating Code Haven-themed bonding activities like icebreakers, Never Have I Ever, and Code Haven Bingo. This greatly increased our sense of community, and even after going virtual, Mary didn’t give up and kept up the fun with breakout room activities, Zoom virtual backgrounds, and more. She also, in collaboration with the events team, organized elaborate social events like “Initialization” and “Code Haven Olympics”.
Curriculum: When we realized that our fall classes were going to have to be virtual, our curriculum directors, Jess and Aaron, had no shortage of work to do. The two of them took advice from several sources and immediately started brainstorming different methods of teaching our curriculum and getting students excited in a virtual setting. By the start of our fall classes, the two of them had converted an entire semester’s worth of curriculum into an online format and they have already started creating an entirely new set of lessons for the spring.
Outreach: As part of a newly formed team, our outreach directors, Gabe and David, had to create their own path and prioritize things to work on. By summer, the two of them had remade our existing website and created an entirely new website for our open-source curriculum with our fall lessons translated into an easy-to-use online format. They even recruited a team of mentors to translate lessons into Spanish! Since then, the two of them (along with Anna) have been working on boosting our social media presence and putting out regular newsletters to keep the Code Haven community connected.
Treasurer: Even the treasurer role was not exempt from the impact of the pandemic. Much of our previous expenses, which included snacks, cost of events, and transportation, were no longer applicable to our current situation. Our treasurer, Danny, explored new ways in which we could utilize our funds. In accordance with our goal of expansion and increased online presence, Danny coordinated the process of funding mentor participation in the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. This turned out to be a great opportunity for not only expanding our reach but also for finding new ways to improve our curriculum, and is likely to continue as a recurring responsibility of the treasurer.
Video Team: To aid the transition of our curriculum into an online format, we decided during the summer to create a brand-new area inside Code Haven: Video Team. After a series of meetings, the concrete responsibilities of our new board members, Andrew and Lucas, started to take shape. Since joining, the two of them, with the help of mentors and other board members, have recorded videos to go along with our fall lessons. In addition they have produced video content for other parts of Code Haven like the events and outreach teams.
In our view, the most shocking part of what happened after the pandemic wasn’t the set of massive changes that Code Haven had to undergo. Instead, it was the one thing that stayed the same: our community and their dedication to computer science education. When we made the decision to continue with virtual classes this fall, we had little confidence that teachers would still want to host us. The virtual environment was new for everyone, and it was a large ask for teachers to dedicate a weekly slot for us, and also work with us on all of the policies and complicated logistics that were required to bring an outside group into an online classroom. When we heard that all of the schools that we had worked with wanted us back, we were thrilled, and we were even more surprised to receive applications from schools in New York and Chicago who wanted to take advantage of the virtual situation.
It wasn’t just the teachers who stepped up. Our advisors and advocates in Yale’s administration enthusiastically offered their support. Between making recommendations on how to structure online classes, advocating on our behalf to New Haven Public Schools, and even offering to personally train our mentors to be engaging in a virtual format, our friends showed us that they had our back. We also had a large amount of interest from Yale’s incoming class of 2024, and although our new mentors never got to meet us in person, they were still incredibly engaged and dedicated to teaching. In fact, our new board going into 2021 has more new mentors than ever before!
Something else that we learned from the past year is that unexpected changes can lead to great discoveries and growth. Code Haven had been exploring the possibility of creating an online curriculum for a couple of years, but before the sense of urgency and necessity that the pandemic brought, it was never prioritized. Past years of Code Haven were generally spent refining our lessons and events, but there was never a need to completely overhaul our board structure or the way that we operate. This year completely changed that, and led to great results.
Two of our biggest accomplishments that came out of this year were the creation of our video team and the completion of our online curriculum. Both of these things were mainly driven by our pandemic response and may not have happened in a normal year. However, the possibilities for an online curriculum and video team go far beyond the current situation, and we’ve already seen how they’ve benefited our own mentors in their teaching. From this, we’ve learned that taking risks and making changes can have big payoffs, and we hope that Code Haven will continue to reinvent itself going forward, even when things go back to normal.
This year was without a doubt an opportunity for great growth inside Code Haven, but we are well aware of the challenges ahead of us. With the development of our fully open-source online curriculum, we are now shifting our focus to making sure that educators know such a tool exists. A focus for the next year will be searching for classrooms that would be interested in testing it and, thus, contributing to its development. This is an effort that will certainly benefit from our goal of increasing our online presence, be that through social media, conferences, or partnerships. We are confident that once it finds its audience, our online curriculum can be a useful resource for teachers who are looking to introduce their students to computer science topics, while also providing us with constant feedback.
Another opportunity that we have ahead of us is increasing mentor engagement. This has been a recurrent goal of past Code Haven leadership, still there is much room for improvement. We believe that our pool of mentors consists of mission-driven people with great potential and should, therefore, be further explored. A greater array of opportunities for mentors results in a stronger feeling towards our mission as well as a greater sense of community. Some of the steps we have taken in this direction include exposing mentors to classroom leading experiences, allowing them to take leadership in outside projects (e.g. computer science in the elementary school level), getting them involved with Video Team, and assisting in the Spanish translation of our online curriculum. As a result, we have noticed concrete improvements such as increased attendance and interest in leadership roles, which, interestingly, come from mentors who have previously engaged in some of these additional opportunities. Nevertheless, Code Haven has many future projects lined up that can definitely be benefitted from mentor participation.
This past year has had no shortage of ups and downs, and the two of us will always be grateful for the opportunity that we had to lead this organization that we love so much. We’ve found such a great community of peers and mentors, and we are constantly inspired by the enthusiasm of the students and teachers that we work with. Reaching the end of our tenure and passing on the torch to the next set of leaders is definitely bittersweet, as Code Haven has become such a big part of our lives. However, we are optimistic about the future of the organization and excited to see how it evolves under the leadership of our next co-presidents, Anna and Eden. The Code Haven community can definitely expect big things to come.