The Synchrony corporate campus in Stamford is the site of frequent meetings to discuss code and tackle programming challenges, but four times a week the gathered developers aren’t mentioning interdepartmental miscommunications or their managers’ changing priorities. Instead, they are citing things like homework and SAT Prep.
Instead of Synchrony employees, the developers are students from Norwalk and Stamford public schools who are using the company’s Synchrony Skills Academy as a space to study and explore the world of coding while also developing confidence, leadership skills, and new friendships forged by shared interests.
A.M. Bhatt, the co-founder and CEO of District Arts and Education (DAE), described the opportunity to collaborate and grow as being of equal, if not greater, importance to the technical skills the students develop.
“This is a Trojan Horse,” Bhatt said. “We deliver like crazy on the tech side, we deliver on that and no one can dispute it. That’s what Synchrony has given me the space for, that’s why the state gives us money. We have to get that right, but the soldiers inside the horse are what I really care about. The thing I care about, and that my staff cares about, is that the kids leave here more bullet proof than the average kid.”
Bhatt explained that the core insights and goals of the DAE program he runs within the Skills Academy, which grew out of the original program he started in New Haven, could be attached to any vocational training program. His experience in the tech sector is supplemented by studying theology and training guides the DAE approach.
“The program is not about technology. Where we start is: what do you want to use your life for?” Bhatt explained.
That philosophy also guided the selection of staff. Bhatt called the instructors for the program all capable programmers, but said that they would have been his first choice on the basis of personal skills even if they knew less code.
Mohameth Seck, a senior educator at DAE, is a graduate of the DAE coding course. He wound up recruited by Bhatt.
“I honestly didn’t see it coming, me being a teacher,” Seck said. “I thought after the program I’d be working in big tech, and some classmates wound up at Sikorsky or Travelers. I thought I’d be a full-time software engineer, but I like where I’ve ended up. It’s fun showing these kids how to build cool things that I’ve always wanted to do.”