Sisters Harita and Sharada Suresh, 13 and 12, of Jersey City, were blessed enough to be raised in a tech-sound family, so the two used time amid the coronavirus pandemic to pass some knowledge along.
In April, the middle schoolers launched a non-profit called Little Apple Academy – a virtual service used to teach coding and other computer programming skills to kids aged 8-11.
The two have taught for over 400 hours and their students have written over 70,000 lines of code. The students come from all over the world, including the U.S., United Kingdom, India and Egypt.
“Our parents work in the technology field,” Sharada said. “They encouraged us to learn coding from a very young age. I wrote my first program on code.org when I was five years old.
“We’ve been interested in technology ever since we were little,” Harita said. “We participated in Code Rush, a national competition conducted by CodeMonkey Studios, in 2017 and 2018. Our team won first place both times. We also took an online Python Programming course offered by Georgia Tech on edX.”
The Little Apple Academy classes are run through the online program Jitsi, which is accessible to kids outside of the U.S. Some students are seasoned coders while others are first timers who enroll in the seven-week course the girls conduct for newcomers.
Sharada, a rising seventh grader at MS4 Middle School, loves the international interaction and recalled a fun experience with one of her students.
“The rewarding part for me about Little Apple Academy is the engagement I have with kids from around the world,” she said. “This was an opportunity for kids to continue learning, even when schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of our students from India stayed up every day from 10-11 p.m. to attend the class. His determination was inspiring to me.”
The satisfaction is similar for Harita, who graduated from St. Nicholas School and will attend McNair Academic High School in the fall.
“I like teaching kids about how amazing coding is and how technology impacts our future,” she said. “Since I learned coding at a very young age, I believe that any child can learn how to code regardless of age. It’s very special to see their reaction when their lines of code translate into action on the screen.”
The girls additionally host advanced one-on-one classes for a small fee and donate 100 percent of the proceeds to two food banks in Jersey City.
Thus far, they have raised $400 that has gone to the Mary House Emergency Food Pantry of Our Lady of Sorrows Church and to the NJ Black Interest Team Enterprise Free Food and Juice Distribution program.
Sharada has seen the help NJ BITE needs and explained why she finds joy in giving back to the hometown pantry.
“The NJ BITE is committed to helping those in need and bringing hope to communities through their food and clothes distribution program. They usually have a long line of people waiting to receive food and juice distribution every Saturday. To me, being able to help people in need is an important part of life.”
Meanwhile, Harita was blown away by the volunteer efforts at the other aforementioned food bank and felt compelled to join in.
“Hunger is a worldwide crisis worsened by the pandemic,” she said. “We wanted to support our community in any way we could to relieve hunger in these difficult times. According to Sister Alice McCoy, as of June, the Mary House Emergency Food Pantry of Our Lady of Sorrows Church has provided food to 616 families including 951 adults and 648 children. We think this is a great service to the community and we wanted to be part of it.”
The girls have a website where they list their ongoing classes and curriculum. Aspiring students can send them an email to get started.
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