I am almost sorry to see winter break drawing near. For the past two weeks, I've had the privilege of introducing an amazing group of kids to open source software. Inspired by GHOP, Google's pilot Highly Open Participation contest, I've put together an extracurricular computer club for interested students at nearby Sandridge Elementary. We meet twice per week after school for an hour and a half. I came into this with the slim hope that the school's new administration would let me shepard a couple of students through GHOP. Mr. Hollingsworth's (Sandridge's principal) and Dr. Sawyer's (Sandridge's superintendent) enthusiasm took me by surprise, and became a catalyst for the growth of a program that I hope will someday serve as a model for other schools.
Of the club's eight active participants (not counting occassional attendees), seven are trying their hands at GHOP projects, alongside high school students from around the world. Most have chosen to work on projects for Drupal, which makes for good crossover activities with our two under-13s who have taken charge of creating the club's web site.
So far, the biggest challenge for me is leading a group like this in an essentially unwired community. Students generally only have computer access at school. and few parents have regular access to email. Simple things like password resets can take days, and my students are at a disadvantage for things like GHOP. I must give them all credit, though -- despite never before being exposed to basics like FTP, they are all jumping in the deep end and making amazing progress.
I have been lucky enough to round up some great speakers and corporate donations. We are still looking for a speaker in a graphic design field (preferably someone familiar with GIMP, Inkscape, Blender, or other open source tools), and donations of hardware (especially laptops, thin clients, servers, USB keys, blank CDs, and a tablet). If you can help with any of this, please drop me a line.
The open source world is as much a true meritocracy as I think I'll ever see. No one cares who you are, where you are from, or what you have -- they just want to see your code. Anyone can do anything.