Located a metro ride north of the nation’s capital, Montgomery County is Maryland’s most populous county with over 1 million residents. While labeled one of the most affluent counties in the United States, our residents vary broadly socio-economically with over 35% of students in our public schools participating in Free and Reduced-priced Meals (FARMS). As Montgomery County continues to expand its economic base in the growing areas of biotechnology, information technology and cybersecurity, we want to ensure our future workforce has the opportunity to explore and learn these exciting new fields.
In 2019, an innovative partnership began between Apple, Montgomery College, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC). Montgomery Can Code was born out of a vision to expose middle school students to the language of coding and gain a valuable skillset. Montgomery Can Code offers a unique opportunity for youth who may not have considered, or had access to IT and coding programs, and encourages our talented young app developers to continue to grow and develop in this burgeoning industry. The interest was evident as 300 middle school students participated in our first year of free Montgomery Can Code summer camps.
With MCPS student recruitment, Montgomery College supplying the space and instructors, MCEDC facilitating speakers from the business community and Apple providing the programming and training components, the partnership yielded immediate benefits. It was clear after the first summer that we needed to expand the program and we tripled our enrollment of students to over 900 for the following summer. Then came the pandemic and the tough decision to make regarding our Montgomery Can Code summer camps. In a quick pivot, the program was modified to become virtual learning camps. Each student was given an iPad on loan so there were no barriers to participation and engagement. During their week in Montgomery Can Code, students were challenged by our nonprofit community to develop apps in response to a real-world need. At the end of their week-long camp, students created an app prototype and pitched their designs. This culminated in the Montgomery Can Code Showcase.
The Montgomery Can Code curriculum utilizes Swift Playgrounds, a free app for iPad, to teach the Apple-created Swift programming language. Swift is an intuitive, easy to use, open source programming language that is considered fast and efficient. It can be used to develop apps for iOS, Mac, Apple TV and Apple Watch. Swift Playgrounds can even be used to create coding to control devices like robots and drones. Basically, anyone with an idea can write an app with Swift.
The impact was amazing. Two-thirds of our campers came from 14 middle schools with the greatest FARMS service rates. By taking advantage of this free program, these students were empowered through hands-on learning to develop a skillset for a field of work that is growing exponentially. During the camp, students also met with local IT companies to learn about careers in technology. It is an exciting collaboration that sparks the career possibilities in our future workforce youth so that they can step into the talent pipeline being sought by our local businesses.
My hope is that more counties will find the support and partnerships necessary to create an Apple Can Code program in their own jurisdiction. The incredible opportunities for our youth to come up with ways that they can solve so many problems of the world through coding is empowering. And the benefits for our counties are limitless in strengthening our future workforce, meeting the needs of our local businesses, developing deeper relationships between education and industry, and retaining and attracting businesses.