SOUTH SHORE — Rather than drop a music video for his single with DJ Khaled “I Love You So Much,” Chance the Rapper’s charity SocialWorks decided to release a video game coded and designed by South Side students.
The game, titled “SuperMe,” was unveiled in front of 400 students and staff Monday morning at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive.
A programming activity modeled after the SuperMe design process, called “Code Your Hero,” is now available online.
Schools in attendance included Coles Elementary, Frazier Prepatory Academy, Sayre Language Elementary, Henderson Elementary, Tanner Elementary and Holmes Elementary.
Students in the CS4ALL program at these schools designed superheroes to look like themselves through Scratch, a computer programming language targeted at children and programming beginners.
After SuperMe premiered with a video message from Chance, the kids headed to the Cultural Center’s solarium to play their game as well as a host of augmented reality games.
Most of the kids’ input came through in-class projects, said Justin Cunningham, co-founder and executive director of SocialWorks. The rest was through a series of family coding nights, where kids and their families built up their programming skills after a meal.
The family nights were intended to give attendees a wider view of what can be achieved with computer science skills, said Cunningham, who is also a graphic designer.
“We had opportunities where families were able to come together, eat some food after school and then crack open a laptop and use it as a creative tool,” he said. “We saw grandmas using that jawn for the first time; uncles and dads and people that really only thought you could crunch numbers and hack the world with it.”
The kids have now been introduced to a new skill and interest they can use later in life, said Jorestes Weatherly, a special education classroom assistant at Coles Elementary.
The kids at his school “like to play video games — I think it’s cool that they can learn how to create their own,” Weatherly said. “It’s a great way to get them exposed to other things that they’re not accustomed to.”
Beyond modeling superheroes in their images, the students designed the game’s cityscapes, icons and character animations, said Justin Steele, a director with Google.org.
Low-income and majority-minority schools are 12 times less likely to offer computer science programs, making CS4ALL necessary to “level the playing field,” Steele said.
“I’m super proud of all these young people here today for showing their brilliance,” Steele said.
Google gave $1.5 million to SocialWorks in 2017, partnering with 20 Chicago schools to offer activities that blend the arts and computer sciences.
At Monday’s event, Steele announced Google was donating an additional $250,000 to the initiative.
The schools SocialWorks selected for the funding have high disciplinary rates, declining graduation rates and are in need of basic resources like textbooks, Cunningham said.
“We don’t just throw darts at the wall,” Cunningham said. “We work with CPS, [the Children First Fund] as well as ourselves to make sure this money is intended to go to the black and brown students who need it the most.”
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