Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics and Code for America Partner To Build Nation's First Backpack Apps
Web and mobile apps will be designed to spark and support learning and curiosity for Boston's youth
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For Immediate Release
February 15, 2011
Released By:
Mayor's Office
For More Information Contact:
Mayor's Press Office
Press.Office@cityofboston.gov

Today, Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced that his Office of New Urban Mechanics has partnered with Code for America, a start-up non-profit focusing on municipal innovation, to pilot a new channel to reach youth where they already spend a significant amount of time: online and cell phones. Code for America and the City will design for the next school year a suite of web and mobile phone applications stimulating the academic curiosity of students while making it easier for parents and educators to connect students with youth opportunities.  

Earlier this afternoon, Mayor Menino met with a team of fellows from Code for America who will spend the rest of February interviewing over 100 students, parents and educators to understand what type of mobile phone and web applications they think would be most beneficial. Based on the feedback, the fellows will build, test and roll out the first apps by November. Nicknamed Backpack Apps, the applications are expected to be filled with personalized content that helps each student learn.

“We are using every tool we can to build a world class public education system in Boston,” said Mayor Menino at a meeting with the fellows today. “Our strategy is to make learning accessible, engaging and relevant not only in our classrooms and community centers but also citywide.”

“We believe that what we can build with and for Boston’s youth could become part of the national model for urban education,” said Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director of Code for America. “We are excited to partner with the City of Boston on this project as it highlights just the sort of significant, sustainable impact that Code for America hopes to have.”

“Microsoft is a proud sponsor of CFA and of the fellows who stand out as role models in service and excellence. We look forward to continued collaboration and to providing the ongoing assistance necessary to make this project a success,” said Mark Hindsbo, vice president of Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Evangelism Group.

Founded in 2010, Code for America is in its inaugural year. Modeled loosely after Teach for America, Code for America places a team of fellows for one year in municipal information technology offices to tackle some of the most pressing urban issues.  After a competitive process, four cities were selected this year, with Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington D.C. joining Boston. The team in Boston includes seven fellows with backgrounds ranging from technology entrepreneurship to graphic design to software development.

“Under Mayor Menino’s leadership, the City is investing significantly in technology projects that will lead to better educational outcomes for youth,” said Bill Oates, the City’s Chief Information Officer.  “We are excited to partner with Code for America on this particular project, which will put new tools into the hands of our educators, parents and students.”

While app ideas will be developed and refined this spring, some initial thoughts have already emerged. For example, students might have a web app that allows them, on one screen, to see their library books, community center classes and course schedule. Parents might have an online way to change their address with Boston Public Schools. And, teachers might have a tool to design scavenger hunts throughout the city that can reinforce what students are learning in the classroom. 

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Backpack Apps is a project of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics: Mayor Menino’s Office of New Urban Mechanics focuses on piloting transformative City services that tap into constituents’ civic engagement and leverage new technology. 

About Code for America, Inc.
Code for America enlists the brightest minds of the web industry into public service to use their skills to solve core problems facing our communities. We help talented technologists leverage the power of the internet to make governments more open and efficient, and become civic leaders able to realize transformational change with technology.

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