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East Bay Program Helps Thousands Of Kids Learn Coding Skills

DUBLIN (KPIX 5) – Children in the East Bay's Tri-Valley are learning coding, thanks to a community program started by this week's Jefferson Award winners, a mother and son from Dublin.

Six-year-old Siddhartha Kumaran has learned enough of the Scratch programming language to create this own video game.

"Coding the game and playing your own games is very fun," he smiled.

Siddhartha takes part in TriValley CoderDojo, the nonprofit Valerie Freitas founded in 2013 to teach kids coding skills.

"Back then, there weren't many coding schools," Freitas said.

The nonprofit's co-founder is her son Alex Freitas.

Valerie & Alex Freitas - Jefferson Award
Valerie & Alex Freitas. (CBS)

Now, he's a college sophomore, but back then, he was a 13-year-old who'd taught himself programming.

"It became about helping other kids learn, seeing them become successful," he explained.

TriValley CoderDojo's free club has served more than 14,000 kids over the years, kindergarten through high school.

Up to 80 students have met each week, mostly at public libraries or conference rooms of corporate sponsors.

Dozens of adult volunteers help teach, but kids also mentor each other.

The focus: on independent learning, as students explore several topics, from coding to cybersecurity.

"This allows us to customize everything to the individual," said Valerie Freitas.

"The idea - that everyone is gathered, learning many different things and learning what they want to learn, however they want to learn it," said Alex Freitas.

Some participants even collaborate and enter contests. Alex Freitas helped lead the team that won second place in Cal Poly Cyber Innovation Competition on cybersecurity two years ago.

The club has shifted online during the pandemic, engaging about 50-plus kids a week.

Programmer Senthil Kumaran is a both volunteer mentor and dad, who sees the club's impact on his son, Siddhartha.

"He'll be able to gain the knowledge of what programming is and he'll have a lot more choices to pursue what he really wants to pursue," said Kumaran.

And that's part of the mission: to equip students with tools for their future.

"That's what I want to do, is empower them to do that, and to give them the teamwork, leadership and communication skills to do it," said Valerie Freitas.

So for introducing kids to coding and computer skills through TriValley CoderDojo, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Valerie and Alex Freitas.

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