Behind every superhero is a super squad. With the right support, what can’t a kid do?
Fourteen-year-old Ashlyn VanDine is one of many “Super Geeks” at Kramden Institute, a nonprofit in Durham where volunteers refurbish computers for honor-roll students whose families can’t afford a computer. Like an Apple rep at the Genius Bar, she sports her Super Geek shirt with pride. Kramden is a place of empowerment, where adults trust her to help volunteers of all ages.
“It makes me happy to be surrounded by technology and people that trust me,” she smiled. “They don’t think of me as a child who can’t do anything. Even my dad still needs help sometimes!”
Ashlyn joined the Kramden family two years ago, after her dad, Ken, heard about it from a friend. She’ll never forget her first day onsite.
“It was the best day,” she recalled happily. “Everybody knew what they were doing, and if you didn’t know, there were instructions for everything.” From triage to OS load to monitor testing, Ashlyn quickly learned each step. Once she picked a task though, her pace slowed down. According to her dad, she could spend fifteen minutes cleaning a single mouse.
“I would complain,” laughed Ken. “But her comment was, ‘I want this to be perfect for the kid that’s gonna get it.’ And that made me very proud.”
Ashlyn’s fascination with computers started early on. A programmer for Ubuntu, Ken began teaching Ashlyn how to code in fourth grade. “He’s the one who inspired it all,” she shared. There’s something magical, even mysterious, she feels, about turning cryptic words into whatever she envisions. While far from effortless, programming has taught her to persevere and work hard.
“There were lots of times where I’ve felt that I can never learn how to do this at all,” she said. “But when I finally saw the final product, I was really happy that I’d done it. And I believe, if someone wanted to do it, they can do it.”
Ashlyn now teaches a monthly programming class at Kramden’s Coders Club, which she launched for her Girl Scout Silver Award. To see other middle schoolers come in with zero computer knowledge, then leave amazed at what they’ve created with code, is the best part for her. Knowing how it feels to doubt herself, she makes it a point to treat her students as equals.
“I don’t want to treat children like children,” she said. “I want to treat them like young adults who can actually do things.” After all, it’s the trust of adults at Kramden that has helped her to trust herself.
What’s next for Ashlyn VanDine? Well, besides high school, her dream is to attend a Kramden awards ceremony, where students receive their refurbished computers. She usually has school then, but let’s be real: for this Super Geek, the world is her classroom.