App-solutely Apt: Latin’s Uptown Hackathon






When the Latin School of Chicago recently acquired space for a community and school partnership in Uptown, Headmaster Randall Dunn challenged two faculty members to find ways for students and teachers from four neighborhood schools to work in collaboration with teams from Latin. English teacher Sarah Bunger was named Director of the Uptown Service Project, and Middle School computer science teacher Bobby Oommen, a former CPS math teacher, led an exciting first project.




Oommen reported:

“The stars aligned. Students and teachers had done volunteer work in the community before, so a relationship had been established. Randall wanted it to be a real partnership, not just volunteer opportunities.

“For at least two years, it will be an opportunity for teachers and students to be paired with one another. We would come to learn how best to get kids from so many backgrounds together and really know what they are being asked to do in real life situations. Randall has said that Latin is a school for neighborhoods.”




Alderman Harry Osterman of the 48th Ward invited Latin to come up with an app that would find the best way for the youth of Uptown to come together in a destination or an activity—something that would creatively encourage kids to make the best choices.



A hackathon was the suggestion, and 42 students from four schools came together recently to get the job done, the first of many joint activities in the Uptown location.






Contrary to today’s other hacking headlines, a hackathon is a quick way to a great solution using exploratory computer programming in collaboration. And the solutions drummed up by the 42 middle school students from McCutcheon, Courtenay, Goudy, and Latin were sensational!



Finding new mentors and friends while learning coding and how to navigate cutting edge computer tools made it a success. The “brain breaks” and terrific snacks were well-earned that day!






There were an equal number of students from each participating school and an equal number of boys and girls. Students praised the resulting apps created as awesome, and judges awarded prizes to the winners.



Latin School will have the Uptown space for the next two years, and summer programs are open to students from the participating schools as well as Latin. Senn High School will also be included in future classes. Sarah reported:

“Programs will be offered throughout the summer, including a cyber security camp using the U.S. Air Force’s Cyber Patriot Program, which focuses on detecting cyber vulnerabilities. We will also teach urban planning in a class called Territory Design.  

“In the fall, we continue with after school classes and Saturday programs. We began first by talking with the school principals, and now we are concentrating on teachers working with teachers. For example, Latin and Goudy are developing a dance mentoring program. We are working with awesome public schools and pairing all teachers to establish true connections.”



The anonymous surveys afterwards told of the day’s successes. Here’s a sampling of comments from students representing all four schools: 

“I learned that meeting new people is very cool.”

“I hate negativity, and I like intellectual people.”

“I learned to better incorporate my ideas with others to make something great.

And one recommendation:

“The best part was everything! The only thing we could have had was sushi.”

Here’s looking to future innovation from the next generation—and a touch of fine dining!


Photo credit: Latin School of Chicago