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17-Year-Old Leonia Friends Start Coding School

John Melizanis instructs students.
John Melizanis instructs students. Photo Credit: John Melizanis
Joseph Lorenzo instructs students.
Joseph Lorenzo instructs students. Photo Credit: John Melizanis
Sammy Yuen and Joseph Lorenzo instruct students.
Sammy Yuen and Joseph Lorenzo instruct students. Photo Credit: John Melizanis

LEONIA, N.J. — Leonia natives John Melizanis, Joseph Lorenzo and Sammy Yuen like to joke that they're just like Apple co-founders Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne.

Every day after school, the 17-year-old best friends go to the garage of Lorenzo's home to work on TechRoots Academy, a program in which they teach younger children computer engineering.

Their company may not be as revolutionary as Apple, they say, but it could be quite meaningful.

"In 15 years, learning to code will be just as important as being able to read a book," Melizanis told Daily Voice. "Yet there is a lack of education of it in our schools, so we thought we would do something."

Melizanis has been dabbling in computer engineering since he was in the sixth grade. He prides himself on being able code an entire website in "two or three class periods."

Before the start of his junior year at Academies at Englewood program at Dwight Morrow High School, he approached Lorenzo and Yuen with the idea to teach younger kids how to code.

"They said if I could teach them how to code, then they would help me teach others," Melizanis said.

They spent the autumn developing a lesson plan and curriculum for six one-hour coding classes in Java, HTML and C++. In February, they approached Englewood and Fort Lee libraries offering to teach their class to local kids ages 10 to 14 for free.

It went so well that now the trio has offers from fourteen additional libraries who want them to teach a summer course.

"It's going to be a very busy summer," Melizanis said.

The company submitted an application for non-profit status, but has no plans to monetize.

"The motivation isn't the money, it's community service," Melizanis said. "The kids and the parents are so happy for what we do, and that is plenty of satisfaction."

If the summer goes well, Melizanis hopes to recruit more teachers and spread to other parts of New Jersey.

"There are lots of young people starting businesses especially in tech," Melizanis said. "We know we can do this."

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