At the end of the SparkED program at Geekdom on Sunday, the kids presented their projects to their parents.
“My name is Ryan and I’m a Web designer,” said a member of the website team.
He then told the packed room of proud parents about how his team used design elements like typography, layout, hierarchy and wire framing to create an attractive website.
The Jackson Inc. website is live on the Wix.com platform. It illustrates how much work the kids did in two days. Forty kids from Jackson Middle School in San Antonio spent Saturday and Sunday learning to create a robot, a game and a website and build a business. They wrote all the content and took all the pictures on the website of the four teams that made up the SparkED program. Those teams included the website design group, entrepreneurship team, robotics group and the game programmers.
In the SparkED program, seventh and eighth grade students from select middle schools throughout the San Antonio area learn about technology and entrepreneurship in a weekend.
“These kids learned how to make a website in a day,” said Louis Pacilli, director of education at Geekdom and the head of the SparkED program. “Imagine what they could do in a week or a month.”
Mistique Chavez, 12, seventh grade, learned to build and program robots.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s cool.”
Mentors singled Chavez out for a special award for going above and beyond expectations to help her team. She received a Geekdom T-shirt.
Omar Khalid, 13, a seventh grader, also worked on the robotics team. His team built a Lego Mindstorm robot called “The Zombie Catcha” and programmed it to pick up a zombie doll. The kids created a scenario in which zombies attacked downtown San Antonio and they marketed their robot to the military, families and businesses as a way to protect themselves from the invading zombies.
“I like technology,” Khalid said. “I like anything that has to do with technology.”
After the program, Khalid said he would try to keep up with robotics by joining a school club and trying to make one at home.
During the presentations at the end of the program, the robotics team gave a live demonstration of their robot in action to their parents.
Throughout the weekend, the kids learned how to collaborate and work together in small teams, Pacilli said.
The kids also learned new words to express themselves, he said.
At the end of the presentation, the kids said in unison “We are the entrepreneurs of the future.” The parents applauded.
“It’s incredible what these kids have accomplished in a weekend,” Pacilli said. “These kids have been sparked to consider business.”
Each child received a gold trophy and recognition for completing the program. One member of every group also received a T-shirt for being exceptional.
Brian Hurley, principal of Jackson Middle School, watched proudly as the kids gave their presentation. He wanted his school to participate in the SparkED program because he wanted to get the kids involved in the creative side of technology and show them what education can provide them for their future, he said.
“I was very impressed, especially with the vocabulary, teamwork and that they had an actual product,” Hurley said. “I just think this is a great program. It’s a very innovative program. I know the kids were very excited about this weekend.”
Tony and Tanya Ballez’s son, Diego, was also recognized for being a team leader on the website design team. He received a Geekdom T-shirt.
“We thought it was wonderful,” Tony Ballez said. “We didn’t know what to expect when we came here. We’re very excited to see what he accomplished.”
Before this weekend all Cameron Lindner, 12, could say is my life’s over because he couldn’t participate in sports following two concussions, said Tammy Lindner, his mother.
“He loves video games,” she said. “He learned to build one and that’s better than football.”
The program filled a big void in Cameron’s life at the right time, she said.
“He’s smart,” she said. “I think this program is awesome. He’s going to be back for summer camp.”
SparkED will host weeklong summer camps during June, July and August for the kids. The camps will focus on teaching the kids how to build mobile phone games.
Michael Rice, a software developer with Rackspace, served as mentor to the programming group on Sunday. He’s a self-taught programmer who dropped out of school in ninth grade and later earned his GED and took some college computer science classes. But mainly he learned programming through participating in a Linux user group forum and reading. And he got his job at Rackspace after writing a lot of free open source code.
His advice to learn programming is to “focus and read and if you don’t understand something go ask.”
“A good programmer loves puzzles and likes to take things apart and put them back together,” Rice said.
He volunteered to mentor the kids because “I really like helping other people learn this stuff.”
Joseph Borrego, 16, a junior at Alamo Heights High School, volunteered to mentor the robotics group.
“They are really self directed,” Borrego said. “They really enjoyed the program and I enjoyed working with them.”
Jakyb De La Rosa, 14, eighth grader, also received recognition and a Geekdom T-shirt for helping out the entrepreneurship team.
“It was pretty fun,” he said. “I thought it was going to be boring.”
His parents, Manual and Valeria De La Rosa were thrilled with his accomplishments at SparkED.
“The vision these guys have for the next 10 to 15 years in the tech field is exhilarating,” Manual De La Rosa said. “They want to take the U.S. and the state of Texas to the next level. We want our kids to have great paying jobs in the technology field. We’re losing ground as a nation to other countries. This kind of program can help us keep those jobs in the United States.”
Dean Pacilli, 17, a freshman at St. Mary’s University majoring in international relations and computer science and son of Louis Pacilli, volunteered to mentor the website group.
“Just getting the kids involved in technology is so important,” he said. “Our future is going to be all about technology.”
“Because we’re advancing at such an exponentially fast rate we have to keep up,” he said. “Because they are learning about this technology at 12, they’ll be really advanced when they’re my age.”
The kids loved being able to create their own website, he said. They liked having that power, he said. He’s already volunteering for the next SparkED group.
“I totally love the program,” he said. “I can’t wait to see the new batch of kids.”
Geekdom is a sponsor of Silicon Hills News