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Touro Graduate School of Technology (GST) Student and Special Ed Teacher Khalilah Summers Brings Her Passion for Coding to the Classroom

Touro Student Teaches Students with Autism How to Code, Helping Improve Their Career Prospects

As the technology field continues to grow rapidly, computer coding is an important skillset that can help anyone currently working in the industry or looking to break into the field to advance his or her career. We recently spoke with Touro grad student Khalilah Summers, who is majoring in Instructional Technology, about her personal mission to teach students with autism how to code, why she’s pursuing her master’s degree at Touro, and how the school is helping her to achieve her professional goals.

You're a special education teacher working with students with autism. Can you share a bit about a typical day and the challenges you face?

I work at PS 373K The Brooklyn Transition Center located in Bedford Stuyvesant., The school provides specialized instructional support through the New York City Board of Education’s special education District 75. A typical day working with my students, many of whom are on the autism spectrum and range in age from 14- to 22-years-old, requires creating and adhering to a strict routine. My students need various activities to happen at the same time each day to remain comfortable as well as to prepare them for what is ahead for the day in our classroom. Time is very important to students with autism, and I must remain cognizant of our daily classroom schedule, otherwise any slight change can cause a student to go into crisis mode.

One of the challenges I face daily is related to teaching new concepts. I must define the idea before we can even start learning about the topic in depth. My students have individual needs and varied learning styles, so I’m constantly trying to find a balance that enables me to teach so they can fully understand the lesson. Also, my students have a small window where they can fully focus, so it’s imperative that I’m very clear and concise when talking about different topics and that I make each lesson as interactive as possible. I typically spend ten to fifteen minutes introducing a coding concept, then we break into smaller groups that are specifically tailored for each individual learning style to reinforce what was introduced and to ensure the concept can be understood in each student’s preferred mode of communication. I face a totally different set of obstacles when it comes to dealing with colleagues and administrators who have trouble with the idea that students can learn to code to secure a job in the computer science field in the future. I’ve taken steps to break this stigma by showcasing my student’s work including holding monthly award ceremonies, where they can showcase the vital skills they’ve mastered in order to attain a certificate, on stage with an audience of their peers.

Why did you decide to pursue your master's degree in Instructional Technology? Why did you choose the Touro Graduate School of Technology (GST)?

I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Instructional Technology because I’ve always had a passion for teaching and enjoy learning about innovative technology and I see what can be accomplished through sharing this knowledge with as many people as possible. I chose Touro because I was in search of a way to provide a more equitable education to students that I’m teaching now and in the future, and I also yearned to remain current with the ever-changing ways of successfully teaching. The program at Touro GST seamlessly integrated these important elements. I’m so proud to be a GST student as it truly has been a life changing experience.

How is GST helping you realize your professional goals? What are some specialized technical skills you're learning in the classroom you'll leverage as you advance in your career?

GST has helped me realize my professional goals by teaching and showing students how best to learn, ensuring that my students can recognize their own unique learning styles, and sharpening my pedagogue so that I can effectively teach any subject matter. Some of the specialized technical skills I’m learning at GST that I’ll leverage inside my own classroom and to advance my career include learning about key EdTech tools that are ideal for any classroom, teaching my students how to properly utilize computer applications and software development and programming-related best practices.

You recently completed a project titled, "Teaching Students with Disabilities How to Code," which is very important to you. Can you explain your passion for teaching coding and what you are hoping to achieve?

My passion for teaching coding comes from wanting to provide my students with the opportunity to widen their career prospects way beyond what others may think they’re capable. I will admit that I’m not an expert coder myself and while I’m still working on enhancing my own coding skills, I can recognize students with coding potential when I interact with them. I love to witness my students enjoy learning about coding and I’m filled with pride when they begin to grasp these complex topics. Additionally, I’m hoping to increase awareness around the fact that you don’t have to go to college to be a great coder, instead you just need to believe in yourself and practice, practice, practice. Helping my students learn to code also enhances their self-confidence, which is vital as they embark on their career path. At the end of the day, I hope I’m opening my students’ eyes to different career options they might not even know existed before taking my class. As coding is repetitious, students with autism thrive in this environment and I enjoy being part of this learning process.