Blog > Partnering to Power Virtual Learning & Our Communities
July 15, 2020
Partnering to Power Virtual Learning & Our Communities

A guest post by Travis Feldler, Founder and CEO of TechRow

TechRow is a Niantic partner, focused on providing educational opportunities centered on Augmented Reality to underrepresented minorities in the New York City area.

TechRow is based in Harlem, NY, an incredible neighborhood in New York City, known for its unique contributions to social advancement. Its rich history and culture of innovation has spurred literary and creative movements that have impacted intellectual thought at a global scale. Our program is specifically aimed at providing educational opportunities focused on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, to promising youth who reside in underserved communities, including an area that is home to one of the highest homeless student populations.

In 2019, we kicked off a partnership with Niantic, which has been focused on funding and building out an afterschool program for the students we serve. These students have been working to build their own AR apps focused on sustainability, and based on the needs of their immediate community. Longterm, they hope to build applications that can help increase the positive impact of citizens by identifying landmarks vulnerable to climate change and educating others on what they learn. After a thoughtful planning period, this augmented reality program had just started with a small group of students excited to develop new AR skills while exploring their community. Then, the global pandemic hit.

New York City is an epicenter of COVID19. Families have been deeply impacted by this pandemic. Between the housing and food insecurities, including a substantial digital divide, unfamiliar stresses caused widening inequities. When COVID19 drove school closures, our team along with Niantic huddled over how best to proceed.

Niantic

Contextually speaking, providing youth with a sense of agency in their community through new technology skills is of great value. An underlying focus of the program is narrative and how the digital tools of our time could give a multi-sensory voice to our global issues. The program is also supported by our community partners, Thurgood Marshall Academy and Abyssinian Development Corporation, significant institutions in the Harlem community. Their commitment to seeing this program be a success has continued into the COVID19 pandemic.

TechRow has built an incredible platform that is uniquely positioned for in person and remote learning. We have partnered with award winning producers, studios and media companies like the New York Times, Baobab Studios and Tribeca Film Institute to bring immersive content to students. This is further supported by a robust online learning platform that has allowed us to bring our augmented reality program with Niantic online. The goal is to offer this program nationwide, so students anywhere could benefit from learning XR skills.

In the first week of launching we have been able to offer this online course to 300 students. This is a far larger number than originally planned, and while COVID19 is an enormous burden, it is also the catalyst for our efforts. The program will introduce students to the basics of programming with JavaScript, which will develop further into creating augmented reality experiences using web technologies such as AframeJS and ARJS. These skills will introduce students to the emerging field of immersive technologies and computer programming careers.

Imagine the potential of what could emerge from such a resilient group of students as we refine and scale the impact of this program. As we elevate the unique perspectives amplified by this technology we will see significant contributions to industry and society. It is the very reason why we innovate - to solve big problems. In this crisis, we remained true to the history of our community and chose to advance, rather than stay where we are. We found a dynamic path forward to deliver a great program to our students and we can’t wait to see what they create.


—Travis Feldler, Founder and CEO of TechRow

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