Aspiring Artist Discovers Digital Expression

Imagine being a student today and trying to make sense of our complex digital world.

Isis Allen, a 7th grade student and aspiring artist, likes that she is able to explore and learn new things after school. Allen is one of a handful of students at Cornell who is developing digital literacy skills as part of Digital Corps.

Last year, middle school students at Cornell stayed after school to remix the web using tools such as Mozilla’s X-Ray Goggles, Thimble, and Webmaker. Students also built and programmed Hummingbird Robots, learned some basic computer programing principles using Scratch, and experimented with MakeyMakeys. Cornell’s Digital Corps program is part of an initiative led by The Sprout Fund to help students develop digital literacy skills.

Sprout’s Digital Corps program recruits educators and professionals and trains them to become digital learning coaches

In both in-school and out-of-school settings, students are paired with Sprout-trained mentors who “…work side by side with youth to demystify robotics, code websites, program mobile apps, investigate online privacy, and empower the next generation of digital innovators,” says Ani Martinez, Program Associate at Sprout and manager of the Digital Corps. “There is an array of other programmatic partnerships that have influenced the Corps’ curriculum and ways of thinking (and vice-versa), including (but not limited to) APOST, the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Teen Services Programs, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western PA, Hear Me, and The Pittsburgh Project.”

Students at Cornell have been anxiously awaiting the return of Digital Corps and the district was looking for funding sources to keep the program active. Fortunately in January, Cornell received word that our 21st Century Learning Community grant through the U.S. Department of Education was approved. The grant brought back a wide range of after school activities for our students, including Digital Corps.

Susan Dunning, science teacher, second year Digital Corps mentor and former engineer, was ecstatic by the news. Dunning says, “Digital Corps gives me the opportunity to introduce programming, engineering, design thinking, and robotics to my middle school students.”

The Cornell School District seeks to provide students from Coraopolis and Neville Island with a challenging and rigorous education that prepares them for success. Digital Corps helps fill the void between what students are learning in class and many of the trends in our digital world. It allows our students to explore their interests and become creators of digital content.

Back in 7th grade, Isis is currently modernizing the Grimm’s fairy tale of Rapunzel by building a robotic knight that climbs the princess’ hair. She says, “Digital Corps is fun because you get to try new things and experiment with what you want to do.” She is really looking forward to gaining access to the school’s 3D printer so that she can make a unicorn. Perhaps she will create a robotic unicorn?

Where else is the Digital Corps happening?

Digital Corps lessons and materials are being used by educators and mentors in out-of-school programs throughout the Pittsburgh area, including these neighborhood-based community learning sites:


How can you use Digital Corps lessons in our program?

To help give even more students opportunities to gain the essential digital literacy skills they need to fully participate in today’s world, Sprout’s Ani Martinez and Digital Corps members created resources for youth workers to use to set up their own digital literacy learning sessions.

Check out all of the Digital Corps Teaching Kits including:



Published May 06, 2016