By Karen Barrett-Wilt
Alonso Del Rio (BS, ’20) was a participant in the first Scratch Club at Shorewood Elementary School in Madison when he was in fifth grade. Now a UW-Madison Computer Science major, he’s teaching students in the same Scratch program at his elementary school.
Scratch is a free programming language whose purpose is to introduce children to programming and to make it fun and easy. “It makes computer science really fun. I like that,” says Del Rio. “When you’re teaching CS for the first time to anyone, you have to make it accessible, and Scratch allows you to do that.”
After the Scratch Club session ended at his elementary school, Del Rio kept using it to create his own video games in middle school. “What appealed to me about Scratch was that I always liked playing video games, and Scratch was a tool to make games of my own,” says Del Rio. When he entered high school, he was accepted into the Information Technology Academy (ITA), a pre-college program designed to increase the diversity of students at UW-Madison. Through ITA, Del Rio taught Scratch to other high-schoolers. He has so much experience with Scratch that “when kids are really stuck, they come to me,” says Del Rio.
During his sophomore year at UW-Madison, Del Rio realized that CS402 (Introducing Computer Science to K-12 students) had grown out of the first Scratch Club, the one he attended in fifth grade. He thought, “I have to do this.” During the first class meeting of CS 402, Andrea Arpaci-Dusseau, the professor responsible for starting the Scratch Clubs in schools and CS 402, shows a slide of the kids in the first Scratch Club holding up their certificates. “It was really weird,” says Del Rio. “I’m in that photo!”
He now teaches Scratch with two other UW-Madison students, Chirayu Garg and Mirza Nor Azman. When Del Rio thinks back to participating in Scratch Club as a kid, he remembers, “I was kind of a trouble maker—a goofier kid. So I know firsthand that just because a 4th or 5th grader acts rebellious doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in Scratch. The truth can be the exact opposite!”
Del Rio appreciates that he’s come full circle. “That’s how CS was introduced to me, and now I’m doing it in the same place, in the same way,” he says.