By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A first grader at a West Philadelphia charter school is said to be one of the youngest game developers — perhaps the youngest — in the world.
In many ways, seven-year-old Zora Ball is a typical little girl.
(Gregg:) “What are your favorite things to do?”
(Zora:) “Play with my Boda Bears, and dress up.”
But Zora also has a knack for numbers and has fast become a prodigy in the STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) program at Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, on North 66th Street.
Teacher Tariq Al-Nasir says he taught her Racket, a programming language he says is commonly taught on college campuses. And Al-Nasir says Zora caught on quickly and now writes code on a sixth-grade level.
“She was given very basic information,” says Al-Nasir. “She transformed her screen into a nail salon! She found a picture of a ballerina, she found a picture of a jewel, and then another picture of a vampire. The game she created is called ‘Vampire Diamonds,’ and the object is to get the diamond and avoid the vampire.”
The pint-sized programmer recently unveiled her game at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Bootstrap Expo,” and also at a conference in California where it caught the eye of singer Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas.
Al-Nasir says she did well as a kindergartener in Harambe’s pre-STEM program last year.
“The real magic is seeing young children who have no coding skills pick up the language,” he says. “Once you explain it to them, I think you will see a tsumani of Zora Balls.”
In the meantime, Zora is getting international buzz. Her mother, Jackie Ball, who is Harambe School’s PTA president, says she isn’t surprised because it runs in the family.
“The main reason why I put her in the program is because my son comes here,” says Ball. “He’s now taking classes at Temple.”
She says Zora’s older brother Trace won the “STEM Student of the Year” award, two years ago. Now, Zora is following in his footsteps, but not completely. She says she likes computers but her true love is fashion.