Building Kids and Codes

By Manseen Logan

Over the summer, TechTown Chief Executive Officer Cordell Carter high-fived each of 120 students entering the Chattanooga based high-tech learning center daily.

Among these students, ages 7 to 17, was a soft-spoken 12-year-old boy whose father walked him each morning to the second floor facility of TechTown at 325 Market Street.

Outside of chrome elevators, visitors experience instant immersion into a tech-based world. Multi-colored circuit-like panels glint on the ceiling, and corridor furniture resembles colorful waves.

Uplifting quotes from icons such as John Lennon accentuate the walls. “Everything will be OK,” one reads.

Midway through TechTown’s five-week summer camp, this reserved child who trailed his father each day with his head down did something shocking.  He stood up, requested the mic, politely interrupted the day’s closing ceremony and began sharing how the camp had changed his life in only three weeks. He then led a loud call and answer chant of “When I say ‘Thank You,’ you stay ‘Staff’.”

 This is what TechTown does.

“This movement that we’re building will have far reaching implications and change the stars for a lot of young people and communities that typically aren’t served the way that we’re looking to serve them,” Carter says.

TechTown targets students across all skill levels and demographics with year-round after-school programs and summer camps dedicated to robotics, circuitry, software development/coding, film and performing arts.

Students engage in hands-on creative work using 3D printers, robotics, state-of-the-art television production equipment, large production studios, game designing programs and other software bound to make tech nerds drool.

“I came to TechTown after working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where I was Chief of Staff for one of its divisions, and it was great place to work, but I’m a hands-on guy,” says Carter.

Carter’s dynamic personality works well with young learners, but foundations tend to place executives far away from kids and impact. TechTown gave him the opportunity to return to an upbeat hands-on approach and focus on education and educational disparities, which piqued his interest early in life as a military brat who often switched schools.

“I’m a product of public schools and attended three different high schools. You can see the difference between well-funded schools, poorly-funded schools and schools with different cultures,” Carter says.

With an extensive resume ranging from leadership positions with the Seattle School District to leading operations for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, Carter has been a positive force in the U.S. educational system.

Carter says TechTown will be replicated in other cities, but it’s not here to replace traditional schooling.

“We cannot replace schools and the schools cannot perform what we do. Partnership is a necessity. We need great technologists who are passionate about teaching and we need great teachers who are passionate about technology,” Carter says.

Carter believes TechTown will reach 20,000 kids by the end of the school year, and hopes to impact each of Hamilton County’s 45,000 students at least once within TechTown’s first year of operation. Children attending a Title I school can receive sponsorships to visit TechTown, and other children and families can obtain admission to TechTown’s monthly learning adventures, Minecraft group-play and holiday camps for prices ranging from $180 to $295.

“Ultimately this is not just about teaching kids how to code or do a one minute monologue,” says Carter. “This is about teaching students how to live: build something amazing. Because they are amazing.”

Find out more about TechTown here