Ignite a Spark: YouthSpark

Modesto High Schools students, from left, Krupa Modi, Alex Sanders and Toshali Katyal were Microsoft YouthSpark reporters for a Microsoft-sponsored event called We Day, which took place at Oracle Arena in Oakland on March 26.
Modesto High Schools students, from left, Krupa Modi, Alex Sanders and Toshali Katyal were Microsoft YouthSpark reporters for a Microsoft-sponsored event called We Day, which took place at Oracle Arena in Oakland on March 26. Toshali Katyal

With vacation and the summer heat at their peak, many parents worry about how to keep their children’s brains engaged with something fun and interesting other than video games, tablets and TVs. And we teens had looked forward to the carefree bliss of summer, motivating ourselves through each homework assignment with the thought that summer is only “x” days away.

Yet only days into summer and our relaxed pleasure turns into a tough homework assignment – the assignment of finding things to do. It is a legitimate concern, but luckily, Microsoft has the solution.

Two years ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced YouthSpark, a companywide global initiative to create opportunities for 300 million youths over three years.

“Through Microsoft YouthSpark, we’re focusing our citizenship efforts and other company resources on connecting young people with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship,” he said. “… By working with our partners, we can help empower young people to change their world, and we are committed to using our technology, talent, time and resources to do that.”

Today’s youths constitute the world’s largest pool of untapped talent. Yet even in this day and age, there continues to be an opportunity divide – a partition between those who have the access, skills and opportunities to be successful, and those who do not. While some young people thrive, many on the other side of this boundary lack the skills, education, experiences and connections essential to prosper. Therefore, Microsoft YouthSpark aims to close this opportunity rift to secure the future of the youths and of the the global economy..

So, that part about satisfying parents who are struggling to keep their children occupied? And ending that common teen struggle of finding things to do? Yeah, YouthSpark can help!

Microsoft retail stores in Santa Clara, Palo Alto and San Francisco hold numerous free camps and activities to allow people of all ages to get hands-on experience with technology and have fun doing it.

Microsoft kicked off its free YouthSpark Summer Camps on June 2 and will run camps until Aug. 29 at its retail stores in the locations mentioned above. The summer camps include Smart Game Coding, aimed for children from ages 8 through 10, and Smart Game Designing, aimed for those ages 11 through 13. In both camps, participants learn how to build, publish and bring mobile games to life. By enrolling in these programs, children’s interests in video games and tablet apps not only be can put to greater use but also can help them discover a passion at an early age.

YouthSpark CodeIt is a similar camp targeted for ages 13 and older. The weeklong camp engrosses youths to learn the language of code using Microsoft’s TouchDevelop tutorials to create their own personalized apps. The camp is an effort to induce the youth to look into the aspects of the technology world and gain a better understanding of the field.

DigiGirlz, another unique program, gives high school girls across the globe the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, promoting women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

“It wasn’t something I thought I could be good at, and I really didn’t know what it was, but I tried it anyway and realized that I have a passion and an ability to do this sort of thing,” Abril Vela, a senior at Northside College Prep high school in Chicago, says on a YouthSpark website. Technology-oriented programs such as DigiGirlz encouraged Abril to become a tech evangelist, who now inspires other girls to apply their talents to computers and science. The brilliant thing is that the exposure to these opportunities can steer the youths to a direction they never thought they would travel.

The summer camps require parents to remain in the store while their kids partake in the activities. But the adults, too, can benefit from YouthSpark and take a 30-minute course on topics ranging from online security to smart computing to building a game with their children. Check out the website to sign up for the summer camps and gain new information.

Beyond the summer programs, there is so much to explore, learn and take advantage of.

In March, Microsoft YouthSpark launched the YouthSpark Hub, a website where young people can get resources and learn about the 30-plus free programs to help them envision and fashion a better future. All the programs are free. The Hub offers opportunities to discover careers, a calendar of YouthSpark events and a special “skills” section where one can choose from numerous skills – from building an app to understanding a database – and be directed to the specific Microsoft resources to accomplish just that.

To get started, youths of all ages can select the “Participate in a YouthSpark Program” feature to browse more than 30 programs that provide educational, volunteer, employment and business resources and support. There are also many ideas for teachers to accommodate technology into the classroom. Check out the Hub on

So next time boredom strikes, remember the endless possibilities that Microsoft YouthSpark has to offer to the youth of the future. We can never be too young or too old to change the world. It only takes one idea to ignite a spark!