She had hoped to take the bus to the school, but as usual, had allowed herself to get distracted by one last hallway discussion which truth be told could easily have been deferred. If one were to dig deeper, the true reason for the delay was the subconscious opposition to walking in the cold. For it was cold that morning.

She was still distractedly typing on her phone, the elevator deciding to stop at every other floor, when she realized that she was also now too late to take a shared cab. Suppressing the guilt of not even giving the appearance of being careful with money, she hoped the internet connection continued to work inside the elevator as she tried to book a cab.

She finally reached the ground floor. The cab was 2 minutes away, her itinerary perhaps was salvageable after all! She sprinted across the people ambling around the reception desk near one of the entrances to the building. At least she had chosen to wear sensible shoes that day. Though she strongly felt heels would have looked better with the rest of her outfit, she had decided on a safe choice for shoes, not being sure if there was a dress code for adults at school.

It was sunny outside. Though her mind registered the missed opportunity to take in some beautiful sights she was still busy wrapping up threads of conversation from work. Her cab driver was an old man adept at missing the turns and blaming the map.

Eventually, they made it to the school. Before the car could come to a stop, she had jumped out of the car and run up the stairs. The gate didn’t open. 12:05 flashed on her iphone screen. Her volunteering shift began at 12:25.

Should she message her co-workers for directions to get in? She vaguely recollected a mail that contained the directions. Having reasoned, how hard could it actually be to get in, she had skipped the mail. Luckily her eyes rested on a printed notice which directed her to the West Wing entrance.

This time as she walked she didn’t pay attention to the cold. While she was busy figuring out the entrance, another young woman joined her. A hasty round of weary introductions confirmed they were both volunteering for the same event.

She signed her name in the guest register, “Meera”. Got her badge and walked towards the computer lab at the end of the hallway that had been pointed out to her. It was brighter than she had imagined an elementary school corridor would be. And somehow even managed to have a cheerful air to it.

“Have you been here before?” asked the other volunteer.

“Oh no! I don’t even have kids.”

“That’s a relief, am not even married,” confided the other volunteer
with a nervous chuckle.

Meera felt a crack in her mask of righteous superiority. So Meera wasn’t the only non-parent volunteering at this thing today. Feeling slightly less special, and not knowing exactly what to do with the feeling, Meera entered the computer lab where the coordinator and other volunteers were awkwardly standing for the class to wrap up.

Meera quickly put on her volunteer t-shirt, but that was about all the preparation she had. She wished she had at the very least read the different computer assignments that were planned as the activity for the hour.

There wasn’t much time before the kids left the lab, in a neat line with surprisingly minimum chaos. The fifth graders walked in accompanied by an ancient looking teacher who ignored everyone, went to the farthest corner and appeared to have happily settled down to daydream for the rest of the class.

Meera vividly remembered moments of her school life as a fifth grader but that hardly prepared her for the independence that the kids in front of her were showing. Within moments, all the students were seated, had confirmed that most of them had heard about “Hour of Code” and done one of the most popular exercise before. The coordinator quickly swapped out that exercises to a new one.

Meera was so terribly unprepared that she didn’t even know how to get the exercises to open on the computer browsers. Mentally chiding herself she tried to wing it as a boy raised his hand for help. This “cool boy” sat next to “smart boy” on his right and “silent girl” on the left. Somehow Meera managed to get the exercises started on the 3 computers. Enough to have her bounce back to her confident self.

The programming introduction exercise was a fun animation software with guided levels. Soon enough it became clear that like the adult world even kids came in 2 categories. “cool boy” and “smart boy” had decided rules were boring. They were going to independently explore the world of animation and push its boundaries. “silent girl” had slowly followed suit, as had “Harry Potter glasses boy“. Most of the others had taken a more conventional less adventurous path.

Five minutes in, “cool boy” raised his hand for help. He wished to add voices to his moving images. Meera struggled in vain to figure out the software. fifth graders’ software shouldn’t have been hard for an experienced software engineer to handle. But it was apparent that this impeccable argument only held true theoretically.

Meanwhile “smart boy” had managed to disassemble a cat’s image and was getting the poor cat’s head to bounce around on screen. Next to them “silent girl” was using her mouse to draw the word “white”!

Meera grimaced internally. “silent girl” was not learning programming or animation or anything at all. She was drawing almost as if she was in old-fashioned world of Windows “paint” software.

“Hey, do you want me to show you how to animate like your friends there?” Meera asked helpfully.

silent girl” looked up startled. “No thank you. I am good.”

“So you like to paint?” Meera cautiously initiated conversation hoping to steer the girl to the intended use of the software.

“Yup,” with a firm nod.

“But don’t you want the things to move on screen?”

“I’ll get there,” said “silent girl“.

Meera backed off, not entirely sure if she had handled the interaction well enough. Well, at least she could given the girl some space. Not all kids were equal in intelligence right? “cool boy” and “smart boy” had by now managed to make the cat pieces star in its own creepy horror animation complete with weird sound effects, and were proudly showing their accomplishment to “silent girl“.

“Wow,” she exclaimed as she dangled on the edge of her chair peering at the computer screens to her right.

Meera got distracted with some other students, but when she came back to check on her favourite trio, nothing much had changed. The horror movie was becoming more professional by the second and “silent girl” had the word “black” now written on her screen.

“Am so jealous,” “silent girl” was telling the 2 boys.

Since the 3 were chatting so much, Meera had to assume they were friends. Feeling vaguely protective of “silent girl” who wouldn’t be as quick to learn as these other friends, Meera braved another try.

“Still don’t want any help?”

“Nope, am good”, came the expected reply as “silent girl” went back to her mouse-driven drawing.

Meera tried to control a can’t-be-helped shrug and went to the others who actually wanted her help.

The class was coming to a close. The last couple of minutes was spent in a happy chatter, with everyone sharing how much they had enjoyed making animations and learning the basic thought behind programming. Meera almost wished co-workers from her office teams were here to see the joy the kids felt in working with a computer and building stuff. She had proudly promised herself she would learn and enjoy more at work tomorrow, with the same level of excitement she had seen in the faces of the fifth graders.

She fondly waved at “cool boy” and “smart boy’, hoping someday in the far-out future she got to work with them. That’s when she noticed “silent girl” tugging at her t-shirt.

Want to see what I made?” the girl asked in quiet serious tone.

“Yes,” Meera said hoping she didn’t sound condescending.

What came up on screen was a work of art! There was no other word for it. The word “black” hand drawn with the mouse gradually appeared letter by letter on a white background which segued to the word “white” disappearing against a pitch black ground. Finally both merging somehow miraculously into a burst of colours.

Meera was stunned. This wasn’t a gimmicky childish animation. The entire thing had been brilliantly thought out and executed with precision.

silent girl” was smiling at Meera. Before Meera could gather her wits to say a word, the girl had joined the line of students leaving the computer lab and disappeared as the lab emptied.

Meera walked out of the school’s main door with a spring in her step. The temperature was still low, but Meera noticed the sun’s rays had a welcoming warmth. She hummed to herself enjoying the rare feeling of having learnt something worthwhile. The primroses were peeping out and the leaves had a shine thanks to the morning winter shower. Meera decided there was no rush to get back to work, instead, she walked onwards to the bus stop. She took a deep breath of fresh air.

It had been good going back to school.


wondering what hour of code is … here you go…