updated 3/19/2012 3:56:44 PM ET 2012-03-19T19:56:44

The new nonprofit CodeNow whisks underserved high school students away for a weekend… to learn to code. By Day 2, the students are using Lego Mindstorm, a Lego robotics kit, to program their own robots. Keep in mind that some of these kids don't have access to the Internet or even to a computer at home, though all are computer literate, CodeNow founder Ryan Seashore said. The students qualify for the program by applying, and the Washington, D.C.-based CodeNow's team looks especially for girls and kids who receive free or reduced-price lunches, because they're underrepresented in technology jobs today.

There are several programs that provide underserved students with free tutoring in reading and math. But Seashore decided to start a computer programming class because he thought that in the future, coding might be just as important as the three R's. "One hundred percent, coding is the new literacy," he told InnovationNewsDaily.

After their first weekend, CodeNow students learn more through an online course.  If they complete a project through the online class, they qualify for a programming "bootcamp" held over school breaks or consecutive weekends, during which they learn the popular programming language Ruby. Those who complete the bootcamp receive a netbook so they can continue to develop their skills. They also get mentoring and internship-hunting support from professional programmers. 

In December, CodeNow graduated its first class of 10 girls and 14 boys from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Each built an encryption engine for his or her final project. Seven or eight of the students are "potential superstars" who could very well become working programmers as adults, Seashore said. "I firmly believe we can create the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates," he said. 

Of course, not all CodeNow students will ultimately choose to program for a living. CodeNow simply aims to expose kids to a career path they're unlikely to see among their peers and parents, Seashore said. 

One interesting result of CodeNow's focus on programming, logic and computation is that it can teach math and science without telling kids it's doing so. "We found that students have made up their mind with math and science before they even walk into our classroom. It's either yes or no," Seashore said. For the kids, the idea of computer programming is more of a "gray area" that they're willing to try, which gives CodeNow the chance to show them projects and get them excited. Those who want to improve their programming will have to hone their math and science skills on their own, Seashore said. "We want to have it where it's indirect." 

He and his team are now looking for funding for the next classes. They plan on running another training in Washington, D.C., this summer, and in New York in the late spring. 

Corrected Mar. 19: The previous version of this story did not state that CodeNow is a nonprofit. It also said that students who do well at CodeNow's bootcamp receive netbooks. Actually, everyone who completes the bootcamp receives a netbook. Corrections also clarify the point that CodeNow is focused programming, not directly on math and science, but programming can improve math and science skills indirectly.

You can follow InnovationNewsDaily staff writer Francie Diep on Twitter @ franciediep. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @ News_Innovation, or on Facebook.

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