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Middle school students in Jamesville learn computer coding through new program

Tom Magnarelli
Fifth-grade students at Jamesville-Dewitt Middle School during the Hour of Code event.

Students at the Jamesville-Dewitt Middle School in central New York are learning computer coding through a program developed by a local nonprofit. The goal is to get young minds excited about computer science. 

As the sound of students coming back from lunch filled the hallways, Caroline Skahen, a fifth-grader at Jamesville-Dewitt Middle School and her classmates were in the computer lab, quietly focused on their screens. 

 “I’m playing Minecraft,” Skahen said.

Students can also choose from a Star Wars or Frozen-themed program for the Hour of Code event, organized by the nonprofit Codemania, based in Syracuse. They select different commands, such as move forward or turn left, to solve puzzles which are meant to help them learn the fundamentals of coding.

“When you press run, it does it and the different levels you have to do different things," Skahen said. "I think it’s pretty cool.”

Andy Eldridge, the principal at the Jamesville-DeWitt Middle School agreed and said he wants to give students experience with skills they may need in the future.

“We saw some kids that seemed to really excel at doing some of the coding work that may have struggled at other areas of their academics,” Eldridge said. "It's amazing they pick up on this so quickly. They're just so tech-savvy and literate to begin with. The kids that came out of this were just blown away. They couldn't wait to go home and do more of this tonight."

Ayham Boucher, the founder of Codemania, said the first hurdle is getting kids, especially girls and minorities, excited about coding.

“The sky’s the limit and you only have to play catchup and give them more opportunities,” Boucher said. "Kids also will relate this message to their parents. Coding is not just one field right now, it's everywhere."

The program first started last year with students in kindergarten through fourth grade. The kids demanded more events so after school programs were added and one group is now participating in a national robotic competition.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.