HOMETOWN HERO: AHS student, 15, teaches coding during COVID-19

Courtesy photoJade Nair, a junior at Andover High School, learned coding from online classes and is now teaching other young people in town through a program with Andover Youth Services. She was recently is recognized by CNBC as a Homegrown Hero for her work during the COVID-19 crisis.

If necessity is the mother of invention, as Plato wrote, the same could probably said of COVID-19.

The deadly disease that has sidelined millions of students from school, pushed employees out of work and shut down huge portions of the economy, has also given rise to some great ideas.

Jade Nair, a rising junior at Andover High School, remembers sitting at home after school had been shut down in March, wondering what she could do with her time.

"When the pandemic hit, I was bored," said the 15-year-old. "School was not normal, there was a lack of intellectual stimulation and I  knew I wanted to help out during the pandemic."

While some students collected canned goods for food pantries, and others gathered Personal Protective Equipment for first-responders, Nair went with something she loves doing: teaching computer programming.

During a pandemic such as that wrought by the coronavirus, there is perhaps no more perfect subject to teach while also adhering to social distancing guidelines: Coding classes taught by Nair are all done virtually — online.

And the classes have become very popular.

With the backing of Glenn Wilson, assistant director of Andover Youth Services, Nair and some of her friends from the high school robotics club ran a pilot program on coding during the spring.

It had a waiting list of 19. With that kind of demand, AYS has expanded the pilot into a full-grown summer program.

"We have 15 people teaching and we are running four classes — one in Python, one in Java, one in web design and one in CAD (computer-aided design)," Nair said. "I've reached 41 kids with the programs I've started and hopefully this summer we will have another 24 kids added to that number. Clearly there's a lot of demand in the community."

Nair's foray into coding and teaching didn't happen overnight.

She said it all started when she took a computer science course as a freshman at AHS.

"I've thrown myself into it ever since," she said. 

At the start of her sophomore year, she felt like she wasn't challenged enough by her Java class, something she had taken classes in over the summer. So her teachers suggested she do an independent study.

She ended up working closely with Anil Navkal of Energize Andover, monitoring energy use in public buildings and taking on other projects that required computer expertise.

Navkal advised her to take online courses through the University of Michigan, which she aced.

It was at that point, when the pandemic hit, that she got the teaching bug.

She recruited a handful of middle school girls and began virtual classes in the computer language Python while also continuing her duties with Energize Andover. As if that weren't enough to keep her busy, she was still studying at AHS, as her sophomore classes continued online.

Soon after that is when she approached Wilson at the youth center, ran the pilot program in the spring, and then got involved teaching classes this summer through AYS.

Her work has given her a glimmer of fame. She's being interviewed by the cable-TV network CNBC for their special program called "Homegrown Heroes." The program features people nominated by friends, family members or neighbors who have "gone above and beyond ... and are continuing to answer the call" to make things better for those affected by the coronavirus crisis.

While she was nominated by her mother, Sangeeta Nair, the nomination was buttressed by references from Navkal and Wilson, who wrote about Nair's commitment to teaching remotely and helping others learn valuable skills that can be used in the modern era.

"Her contribution to the cause of addressing the needs of the community using her power of software are path-breaking," Navkal said in his reference letter to CNBC. "Jade is a self-motivated, fast learner. Now she is leading a movement of girls who would not want anything less than a leadership role in data analytics."

The CNBC TV special featuring Nair and several other Homegrown Heroes, is scheduled to run at 7 p.m. on July 16.



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