After two years, Samvit Agarwal found a rhythm with his non-profit, CS Remastered.
Everything was running smoothly. He had around 250 volunteers teaching free computer science classes throughout New Jersey, as well as in Ohio and California, and soon to be in China and India.
When the coronavirus pandemic started to spread, he and his colleagues—vice presidents Akash Bobba and Bharat Krishnan—reacted just as smoothly.
The group generally ran its computer science classes in public spaces like schools and libraries. They all closed at the same time mid-March, which left CS Remastered unable to operate for a while, like many other non-profits and community organizations. But Agarwal sat down with his colleagues and, together, they came up with an online tutoring model that uses video calls and screen sharing. The transition was difficult, Agarwal said, but it ended up working out in the group’s favor.
“Our main struggle was organizing sessions and pairing students up with tutors effectively,” he said. “We addressed this by having dedicated moderators who organize and manage sessions. They also help solve any technical issues people face. Although the switch from in-person to virtual was rocky at first, the use of an online medium for teaching opens up a whole new set of possibilities. Location is no longer an issue which means we are able to scale our organization further and work on new initiatives with much more ease.”
That means establishing partnerships with other organizations, like HomeFront and Girls Who Code, something Agarwal hopes to expand on in the coming years. At HomeFront, Agarwal works with students on activities like Scratch, a simple coding language that allows users to drag and drop blocks of code to create games.
“They seem to love it so far,” he said.
Agarwal, a senior at High School South, started CS Remastered in 2018. He’s always been enthusiastic about tech, he said, and he knew that he wanted to use his skills to give back to the community. He started out by helping out neighborhood kids with projects and answering their tech questions, and then he channeled that energy into CS Remastered.
“After working with some of these kids, I realized that while they all shared a genuine passion for learning computer science, many didn’t know where to start or simply lacked the resources necessary,” Agarwal said. “I am fortunate to have been exposed to programming at a pretty young age, but many of these students lacked such a background.”
After digging a little deeper, Agarwal learned that many existing computer science programs and resources focused on brute memorization and specific syntax—while these skills are important, they ignore the “true essence” or computer science, he said.
“After speaking to a few of my friends who had similar experiences, we decided to start a program we hoped would alleviate these issues by teaching students the core fundamentals of computer science in an adaptive one-on-one setting that would allow them to learn at their own pace and in their own style,” Agarwal said.
The group’s primary offering is one-on-one computer science mentoring. They hold one-hour sessions twice a week, pairing students with volunteers according to the programming language they want to learn—Python and Java, for now, though Agarwal said he plans to add more in the future.
Ultimately, though, Agarwal wants to redefine the way computer science is taught. As instruction becomes more flexible, he hopes that more kids will want to get involved.
“We feel like the way computer science is currently taught in classrooms or other programs is a bit too inflexible and rigid,” he said. “Understanding a subject as complex as computer science is no easy task, and by focusing on language-specific syntax or rote memorization, students are bound to run into obstacles sooner or later. Our ultimate vision is to inspire a group of students that will lead future change through technology, and we want to start them off on the right path to achieving that.”