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January 19, 2021

Teen uses coding to help others

Credit: Herald Mail-Media, Julie E. Greene

Ask Ali Zia what he wants to study when he graduates North Hagerstown High School and the junior talks about using science to help society.

But he isn’t waiting.

Ali, along with friends and schoolmates, is involved in several projects to help others. At least two focus on assisting Spanish-speaking families and students with accessing information about virtual learning and the federal government.

The 16-year-old coder has helped create websites, written in Spanish, to educate a growing segment of the U.S. population and co-created an app that recently won a 6th Congressional District contest.

Ali, the son of Farah Abid and Zia Uddin, said he wants to use his skills, including coding, to help underprivileged groups and make apps “that make legitimate changes to the world.

“Just make things to help people.”

Congressman David Trone, D-6th, recently announced that Ali and three schoolmates won first place in the district’s Congressional App competition.

“Washington County is home to some of the most creative and talented students in the nation, and we saw that ingenuity in the Pensando Gobierno app created by Ali Zia, Musa Waseem, Rayan Shahid, and Anish Gupta from North Hagerstown High School,” Trone said through an email. “This app will change the lives of people in Washington County and across the country. I couldn’t be more impressed and proud to highlight the work of these talented students.”

Translated, the app’s name means “Thinking Government.”

Using information from the federal government’s USA.gov site, the juniors created an app that helps Spanish speakers learn about American government through vocabulary lists of government terms, interactive articles and quizzes, Ali said. There also will be other general information citizens should know, like how to take out a loan, he said.

The students are refining the app, which isn’t available yet, and eventually want to make it multilingual. Ali said he’s hoping Apple will approve it for its App Store.

The app is a personal project for the four students.

Ali and Anish also are co-founders of Digital Civics, a club to get youths interested in coding.

Digital Civics is conducting a GoFundMe fundraiser so it can buy several laptops to donate to Hagerstown youth interested in coding. The club is working with local educational organizations to identify driven youngsters who don’t have resources to get a personal computer, Ali said.

“I truly believe that if you give somebody who has nothing a computer to code or some education to create things, it’s a powerful force for change,” Ali said.

Digital Civics also launched a website, Educación a Distancia, that provides tips about virtual learning resources for Spanish-speaking families with children in Washington County Public Schools. The site has tips about activating Zoom, trouble-shooting issues with downloading and uploading speeds, accessing information like assignment deadlines in Google Classroom, and using the school system’s StudentVUE portal. StudentVUE has information about assignments, class schedules and grades.

“To be that forward-looking at that age, I think is just remarkable,” North High Spanish teacher Bob Evarts said of Ali.

Ali said the students behind Digital Civics are working to make it a school club.

They have received help from Evarts and fellow Spanish teacher Uriel Galvan, who checked the club members’ Spanish translations for the virtual learning tip website.

Evarts said he knew when Ali was a freshman in his Spanish class, that the young man “was an exceptional student” with impressive focus.

“He wanted to get to the heart and core of what was going on,” said Evarts, who also was Ali’s mentor for an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme project.

The school system has documents in other languages, Evarts said. What Digital Civics is doing provides another way to help the Spanish-speaking community.