Flatiron News

SwitchUp Scholarship Winner Wants to Educate the Next Generation of Innovators

Building a Sustainable Future Through Code

Erin Farber / 12 April 2016

Flatiron School and SwitchUp teamed up to offer one full scholarship and 50 partial scholarships to the Learn-Verified Program to SwitchUp members who are determined to make the world a better place by learning to code! This is an interview with scholarship winner Sarah Bly.

Today, you’ll find Sarah Bly in a classroom, surrounded by kids entranced with coding and building apps. But just a few years ago, Bly was surrounded by nature, working as an Environmental Science educator focused on sustainability.

Even for a nature enthusiast, the road from conservation to coding is a long path to tread. Luckily, Bly caught two breaks that helped jump start her transition.

The first came when she met the Head Computing Teacher for Caliber: Beta Academy, a free charter school in Richmond, CA that enriches K-8 education with a technology-centered curriculum. At the time, Bly was leading visiting school groups and organizations into the woods as part of her role with NatureBridge. During a seemingly regular hiking trip, she and that Head Computing Teacher gushed over everything from the direction of artificial intelligence to their favorite mathematical reads. By the end of the group’s stay, Bly had herself a job offer.

However, it wasn’t the mutual interest in niche topics that sold Caliber on Bly’s potential. It was her other hobby: Using computers to produce electronic music.

“I explained that I had been using computers to produce electronic music for some time now, and that it had taught me a lot about solving various “tech issues” and problems. Being self-taught, it also made me more confident in my ability to research and solve problems on my own, using any and all resources available,” Bly said.

Since joining the Caliber staff, she has used her experience to start an after school program called Beta Beats, in addition to running a chapter of the national Girls Who Code organization.

“I am teaching a small coed cohort of 6th and 7th graders how to use Ableton Live, which is the digital audio workstation I’ve been using to create music. We hope to have a small compilation of student work by the end of the year—and perhaps a performance or two.”

Taking her coding education to the next level
Though Bly and her students were thriving as they learned to code together and created some amazing music, she felt her “sponge-like” kids were quickly catching up with what knowledge she had to offer. She needed a way to accelerate her learning so she could support them even more.

That’s when another helpful opportunity came her way.

At the end of March, Flatiron School announced Bly had been selected as a scholarship winner in partnership with SwitchUp, an organization that helps people find the right programming schools for them. This opportunity would give her access to the Flatiron School’s online campus – as part of the Learn-Verified Full Stack Web Development Program.

Now she had the chance to be a student again herself, while still keeping her day job as a teacher.

“I saw an email from SwitchUp that mentioned a new opportunity for a Flatiron scholarship, and I just knew I had to apply. Flatiron School is a high-quality program with the scheduling flexibility that I need.”

The scholarship recognizes people who are determined to make the world a better place through learning to code; and Bly was selected for her impressive commitment to learning and teaching others every last skill she has to offer.

With access to a likeminded community of fellow students and programming experts, Bly is ready to take her knowledge to the next level.  

“Right now I can see that there are specific curriculum needs at my school, but I don’t have the skills to address them just yet. I am improving every day, but it is a slow process. Flatiron’s Learn-Verified program is really going to help expedite that process, as well as provide a collaborative learning environment in which I can work with peers to solve problems. Whatever I learn, I will be instantly passing on to 250 students between 4th and 7th grades.”

Bly, an ambassador for code and technology in schools, is planting hundreds of seeds that will one day bloom into the world’s next generation of innovators. Even though she’s left the woods, she certainly hasn’t left her knack for creating a sustainable future.

“With some determination, anyone has the potential to learn to code and put together an app that changes our world for the better. That is a powerful tool to hand to a child. I believe that if we expect more from a person, they will nearly always rise to meet that challenge. If I expect a lot from my students, they will do a lot.”


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