Sixth-graders at William Paca Elementary in Landover are getting an early leg up on the 21st century work force by learning the basics of computer programming, thanks to a new pilot program.
“I think it’s awesome. You never know what a child will be good at until you give them the opportunity to experience it,” said Tiaisha McCreary of Landover, parent of one of the participating sixth-graders. McCreary said the program could open new doors for her son, Tyler McCreary, 11. “He may enjoy the technical aspect and want to become a web designer.”
The program at William Paca is a partnership between the Potomac-based nonprofit Potomac Code Camp and Prince George’s County’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, or TNI, which provides focused county services to areas in the county that face significant economic and other challenges.
William Paca was selected because it falls within a high-poverty area, where 81 percent of the students receive free and reduced meals, Principal Dorothy Clowers said.
“A lot of our students can’t afford to go away to summer camps, so this is an opportunity for the camp to come to them,” she said.
During the four-week program, which ends May 16, an instructor from Potomac Code Camp holds class with 16 sixth grade students from Pauline Brown’s math class, teaching students basic programming through the free Scratch application, to create introductory videos and games.
Brown said the program, which takes place during part of the students’ math class, fits with the sixth-grade math curriculum.
“There is integration with math, because inside the scripts, they’re working with coordinates, graphing equations, which lines up with the Common Core curriculum,” Brown said.
Eric Shuford, 11, of Landover, one of the sixth-graders in the program, said the class is like nothing he’s done before.
“I learned that it takes a lot of steps to make a game,” Eric said.
Sid Somarriva, programming instructor, said the nonprofit was founded to provide more opportunities for children to learn the fundamentals of computer programming in a fun, accessible way.
“This is a pilot program, so if it goes well and [Prince George’s] County likes what they see and the students are engaged, and they’re seeing the project is productive and students are learning important programming fundamentals, then they may want to expand,” Somarriva said.
Nationwide, only 10 percent of schools teach computer programming, mostly at the high-school level, according to Roxanne Emadi, grassroots strategist for the Seattle-based nonprofit Code.Org, which works to promote computer science education in the U.S.
“There’s going to be a one million job gap by 2020,” Emadi said. “Medicine, journalism, law — all these fields are starving for people who can use this technology.”