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November 12, 2017 10:00 PM

Bugging Out About Computer Science

Nearly 2,000 students at three Sioux Falls elementary schools are taking a bite out of computer science. 

Anne Sullivan, Lowell and Hayward are all in their first year of operating as "coding schools." 

It's known as the computer science immersion program and it's making students feel special and building hope. 

Being one of the first schools in the state to host a computer science immersion program can really draw a crowd. 

"It's like a normal school but it's also awesome because we get to do something that most schools don't get to," Fifth grader Jimmy Saravia said. 

Saravia and his classmates are welcoming superintendents from across South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. They're in Sioux Falls checking out what students have been bugging out about during Anne Sullivan's first year as a Code To The Future school. 

"It's going great. Kids are excited and learning new vocabulary. Really sinking into the computers and learning how to code which has increased their engagement tremendously," Principal Kirk Zeeck said. 

Zeeck says that's the point. Code To The Future's mission is to make class more fun while preparing students for a technological world. 

"First of all, we're building hope in these kids that they will have a skill that others do not have. We just want to continue to grow this," Zeeck said. 

Right now, Anne Sullivan, Lowell and Hayward Elementary Schools are in the computer science immersion program. That means students in kindergarten through fifth grade at those buildings are spending 30 minutes a day learning about computer programming. They're currently using software like Scratch or Scratch Jr. to complete projects. Second grader Khloe Lesesne says it makes her want to come to class. 

"We don't use computers outside of school all the time," Lesesne said. 

Today, she's showing off a project she recently completed. Lesesne and her classmates created games using Chromebooks. 

"It was all my coding stuff and the game is when you have to escape school," Lesesne said. 

Luckily, the daily computer use is making kids want to do just the opposite. That's why Sioux Falls School District Superintendent Brian Maher has big plans for the immersion program's development. 

"We wanted to look at a program that allowed us to cut across the lines of gender, cut across the lines of socio-economic status, cut across the lines of racial and ethnic diversity and say, 'what can we do to really help kids and engage them in a process.' We came to computer science immersion," Maher said. 

While this type of computer training could lead to employment down the road, it's much more than that. Right now, it's changing the way they think.

"I was a high school graduate in 1980 something, quite a while ago. The exposure I had to technology then was very minimal," Maher said.

Nowadays, Maher says kids come to school with a lot of knowledge about computers. The goal is to build on those skills and in doing so, make students better problem solvers. 

"The skills that they're learning are transferable into their academic nature as well as to grit and perseverance and some of those things that we teach but are so hard to test," Maher said. 

Discussions are already underway as to how the program will expand into the middle and high schools. At the moment, it's all about engaging elementary students to find out what gets them excited and interested in school. 

"So we've really got to reach out to them on their level and figure out what's education going to look like? I don't think what we're doing is specific to technology or computer science. I think it's part and parcel to the world that we're evolving into," Maher said. 

As for Saravia, the fifth grader will continue to get a kick out of confusing his parents at home with his coding talk.

Matt Holsen: Do they understand it?

Saravia: No. They're like, "Wow that's amazing."

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