Stony Brook Computer Science Students Teach the ABCs of HTML…and more

KidOYO Donates Funding to Tutor More Long Island Children in Essential Computer Programming Skills

Since Devon and Melora Loffreto started teaching Long Island kids computer programming through their nonprofit organization, KidOYO, Stony Brook University students and faculty have helped them reach more than 50,000 K-12 students across Long Island.

“It’s solving the problem that no one knows how to solve,” Devon said. “How do we get qualified, capable teachers into our K-12 learning experience, so that these kids can engage this subject when there’s a shortage of teachers and there’s no CS certification process for teachers?”

Now, through the Arie E. Kaufman Mentor Service Award, which recognizes Stony Brook students who have taught Long Island kids through KidOYO, the Loffretos are creating a more powerful opportunity for students to engage the community and develop their own skills.

“This award is giving the Stony Brook students who work with us something back,” Melora said, “so that they don’t necessarily have to worry, ‘Do I have to go out and get that second job?’ or ‘Do I have to distract myself from what I’m currently doing?’”

While the primary beneficiaries of the new award are Stony Brook students, the creation of the award also recognizes the role that the University — and particularly Kaufman, who stepped down last year after chairing the Department of Computer Science for 18 years — played in helping make the Loffretos’ vision a reality.

“Arie has just been a steadfast supporter of what we’re doing,” Melora said, “and he continually carved out space for us, exposed us to students, and created a warm environment for what we’re doing. He’s behind it, because he wants every kid, five to 105, to be exposed to coding.”

That support and the partnership with Stony Brook have been essential to KidOYO’s growth from the earliest stages of the organization’s development.

KidOYO Founders

“We say, ‘We’re going to teach Python.’ Well, now they all have to install Python IDLE and they’d have installation errors and viruses. They would come into our programs, and we’d spend two hours fixing machines before we could even get to the lesson.”

Stony Brook’s facilities made it possible for the Loffretos to spend more time teaching and less time fixing their students’ computers, but more important, Stony Brook students have played a crucial role in KidOYO’s mission.

Stony Brook students serving as mentors has an additional benefit, beyond their knowledge of the subject matter. The reduced age gaps between the KidOYO mentors and the K-12 students allows them to engage in a different way, making students more comfortable as they develop these essential skills.

“Kids look up to the college kids,” Melora said, “but they’re not so far that they can’t relate. Some of the mentors almost become heroes to these kids.”

The experience has proved beneficial for the Stony Brook mentors as well, as they learn how to command the attention of a class, and develop their own new skills in the process.

“For these kids, they walk in and they’re shellshocked,” Devon said. “There’s so much energy in the room; how do you corral that to a productive purpose? I think it intensifies the experience they have where empathy is required, where some of that social skill development is required.”

The skills that Stony Brook students acquire as KidOYO mentors attract the attention of employers as well; the Loffretos often hear from mentors whose KidOYO experience is a significant discussion topic in job interviews. “Employers want to know that a person can take a very complex subject and break it down into easy to understand steps,” Melora said.

Meanwhile, they’re also finding that mentors from Stony Brook are increasingly in demand.

“We’ve been on every college campus on Long Island exploring this,” Devon said. “There’s a stark difference between what’s here at Stony Brook and everywhere else, not only from a standpoint of support — which was absent everywhere else — but the talent that’s here at Stony Brook. We hear this from employers. When you’re looking for talent in computer science, engineering, it’s almost 100 to 1.”

By creating the Arie E. Kaufman Mentor Service Award, the Loffretos hope to make the benefits of KidOYO accessible to even greater numbers of students, both in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook and in New York’s K-12 schools.

“Between September and December, these mentors had 36,000 interactions,” Devon said, “kids writing programs and submitting them as solutions to challenges. That’s off the charts in terms of how kids are normally engaging. It’s producing, in effect, all the way up to statewide conversations: how can we do this? Is there a solution where we need to certify teachers, or is there this new model where we look at our universities and create opportunities for the students that are enrolled there, where giving back has tangible benefits for the kids who are enrolled? It starts to feed a higher quality of student into the university system, and it increases the quality of the students who are already here by giving them opportunities to use their knowledge.”

“The success that the Loffretos have found in working with Stony Brook students is a testament to the remarkable young people who come here to work with our world-class faculty,” said Dexter A. Bailey Jr., senior vice president for University Advancement. “This gift, which will make it possible for more Stony Brook students to realize the benefits of mentorship and for more K-12 students to acquire these essential skills, demonstrates how philanthropy can have an instant impact in transforming lives.”

The gift that established the Arie E. Kaufman Mentor Service Award is part of the Campaign for Stony Brook, a $600 million fundraising effort and the largest in SUNY history. To date, more than 46,600 people have donated over $582 million. Make a gift today in support of your interests and help Stony Brook affect powerful change on Long Island and around the world. What are you passionate about? Give today.

— Elliot Olshansky


Photo 1: Eight-year-old Peyton Mockler (with KidOYO co-founder Melora Lofretto) is one of thousands of Long Island students who have learned computer programming with KidOYO. “At first, I didn’t believe I could do it,” Peyton said, “but I’ve come a long way.”

Photo 2: KidOYO co-founders Melora and Devon Lofretto.