Hello! My name is Mikey Muhanna and I'd like to tell you about Melvin.
Melvin was a student of mine at Reed HS in New Orleans’ Recovery School District. He took his studies very seriously and worked hard to graduate on schedule, becoming the first person in his family to attend college. Four months later, he was failing half of his college classes and eventually dropped out after one semester. After that experience, Melvin found himself with a severely damaged sense of self worth, $5,000 in student loans and very few options.
The tragedy is that Melvin’s story is not unique: more than half of my former students who enrolled in college have since dropped out. In fact, approximately 80% of low income students who enroll in college drop out without getting their degrees.
Melvin's situation demanded another option for him to build the skills and tools necessary to bounce back. Positive Space has become that option.
Positive Space is a non-profit co-working space in New Orleans dedicated to increasing the rate of college persistence and graduation among low-income high school graduates, who often lack the personal and social skills to succeed in college. Positive Space seeks to accomplish this by teaching recent high school graduates the fundamentals of computer programming through a volunteer-administered curriculum that will serve as a conduit to develop student grit, professionalism and emotional maturity.
Through Positive Space, Melvin is walking a different path and winning, and I know the rest of my students (and millions in similar situations) can win as well if they are just empowered to develop their skills before it costs $25,000 a year to learn.
Positive Space is in the early stages of its development. I am prototyping the model with Melvin and will continue the test for the remainder of this academic year. Melvin participates in the program while maintaining a full time job. Monday through Friday, he works 8 hours at a coffee shop during the day and then in the evenings comes to the 4.0 Schools office space to work through the CodeAcademy curriculum on a laptop that was donated to Positive Space. He maintains a daily blog about his experiences on the Positive Space website and conferences with me every evening to discuss the day’s lesson and make plans for the following day.
Over the past three months, Melvin has successfully completed Code Academy’s Web Fundamentals track (which includes an introduction to HTML, CSS and jQuery), graduated from part time to a full time (and certified!) barista at CC's Coffee Shop, and even started to work on a personal web project with a developer from LaunchPad (The Amazing Max Gaudin).
While we are celebrating our achievements there is much more work to be done. We have begun to build a partnership with #YesWeCode, and have been incredibly appreciative of all their support and encouragement thus far.
Melvin has many peers in New Orleans who are currently graduating from high school and are rushing into college (and into thousands of dollars of loans) without the requisite emotional and academic tools.
If you would like to follow and be part of our journey towards building a Positive Space in New Orleans for student's like Melvin, you can find us at positivespacenola.org.
Mikey Muhanna is the founder of Positive Space NOLA. You can contact him or learn more about Positive Space at positivespacenola.org and @PostiveSpaceNO.