COVID-19 forced schools across the country to shut down months early, forcing parents and educators to scramble to find ways to replicate the schoolroom experience at home. Fortunately, some tech-savvy people are working to make sure all students have the opportunity to learn — people like Curtis Adams and Tamara DesJardins-Adams, founders of the Walk-On Foundation.
The New Jersey-based Walk-On Foundation is an initiative built to empower students in under-resourced communities through education, life skills, and resource assistance. They provide the technological resources and skillsets to give kids a jump-start on their education and future job prospects.
We chatted with Curtis Adams about how coding and caring for communities can lead to college and careers for kids.
Let's start with your background. Where did you get the skills and experience to start this organization? Why did you choose this cause?
We also share a passion for learning, which has helped us excel in our fields, develop iOS and Android skills, and identify how to leverage these tools in our careers and our business.
There were many times we wished we had a little more guidance throughout our tech careers. It made sense to use the knowledge we since gained to give students a head start in this rapidly-growing field. We see the value in learning new skills at an early stage and want to give these kids an advantage we didn't have.
What motivates you to stay involved?
I think it's knowing that there is a problem and a need. Giving back to the communities we grew up in is a pretty great feeling. The people that make an impact are the people that love to problem-solve, and I think it's the passion for it that keeps us going.
What makes the Walk-On Foundation unique?
We have a passion to serve and a drive to learn that pushes us to make the greatest impact possible, but we don't necessarily think of ourselves as unique. Plenty of folks want to empower the communities they love.
What activities do you provide?
We partner with local schools to improve student experience by teaching students how to code. Our Intro to Coding courses prepare students for a growing field that will be even larger by the time they enter the workforce. Learning coding also fosters skill sets that complement the standard curriculum by improving student performance in activities that require critical thinking.
While these coding courses have been our primary focus so far, we quickly realized our reach could go far beyond that. We also arrange scholarships for local high school students to help fund the first semester of college.
There are communities in need of very basic resources. We help contribute backpacks, notebooks, and other supplies so that every student starts on equal footing. We are very proud that we were able to equip our school with 10 Amazon Fire tablets this year. These tablets were badly needed to enhance specialized programs, with a strong focus on English as a Second Language — a huge win for us, given that this school has a large multicultural demographic.
These have been our main areas of interest, but we are always eager to learn how we can add more value to the communities we serve.
What is the most important work your organization does?
The most important thing we do is learning about a need and working out how to provide it. Each community has its own unique set of challenges — whether it be a lack of extracurriculars or an inability for students to access technology during the pandemic. When we better understand the roadblocks, we can identify how to build pathways around them.
Why, in your words, is education important?
We're both children of immigrants. Our parents taught us that education is an incredibly empowering tool, made all the more essential because they themselves did not have access to it the way they wish they could have. We believe in the opportunities education creates because we saw what dedication to a craft and passion for learning did for us.
What has been the Walk-On Foundation's greatest challenge? How have you worked to overcome it?
Our greatest challenge has just been gaining knowledge about how the education industry works. We recruited experienced teachers with decades of experience to better understand the intricacies of the educational system and how we could best serve students and faculty. While our passion has given us some successes, we also developed some expertise in educational psychology to better strategize, motivate, and evaluate our processes to maintain student engagement.
What's the most rewarding part of your work?
Stewardship. The ability to learn, create, and impart that knowledge into actionable items is beautiful. Being able to watch it come to life and leave the positive impact that it does — words cannot describe how grateful we are for the opportunity.
We often reflect on our first meeting with the principal of our partner school. After our pitch, she said, "In all my 20 years of teaching, not one person has come to us with an idea like this that just wants to help. I was planning to go to school and learn this myself, but maybe now I don't need to."
I think that really let us know that we were onto something we should stick with.
Another memorable moment was when we were guest speakers at the National Honor Society. That night, we spoke about the importance of learning and how it benefits everyone around you. One parent came up to us with a stoic yet proud demeanor and said, "You're doing something we need."
It was so simple, but it meant the world to us. Do you ever meet those people who seem like they know a few secrets, and they just let you in on one? That's what it felt like.
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your mission? What are you doing to adapt?
COVID-19 may have impacted our presence, but it will not stop our practice. With some help from Google's technologies, we've been able to create a classroom experience at home, ensuring every student still has access to education. While this is not fully rolled out, we are currently in the onboarding phase to support schools.
What does the future hold for the Walk-On Foundation?
In the next year, we want to continue integrating ourselves into every grade level of our partner school. After that, we would love to begin partnering with more schools and launch our own platform for the high school level.
Do you have a message to share?
We believe that our Creator is at the center of our business practice, and none of this would be possible without Him. A message that resonates strongly with us comes from the First Letter of Peter — "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
What this means to us is everyone is given a talent. The more you hone in on that talent, the more you develop it, you realize that it doesn't exactly belong to you, it actually belongs to the people that can grow from it.
We take the responsibility of serving our students and school seriously. Our students have gifts, and it's our responsibility as mentors to recognize those gifts and empower these kids. Not only to develop their talents but to entrust them to take on the role of mentoring the next generation of students after them.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
If you see a need, think about how to solve it. There are problems everywhere, just not nearly enough problem-solvers.
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