CodeHS Turns Kids Into Coders

By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News

Students who excelled at the inaugural CodeHS program at Highlands High School.

Students who excelled at the inaugural CodeHS program at Highlands High School.

In the first CodeHS program at Highlands High School this year, Ernest Rodriguez learned to program a computer and to do animation.

“I saw the opportunity and I took advantage of it,” said Rodriguez, a freshman.

Now he wants to be a computer programmer and work at Rackspace Hosting some day, he said.

Rodriguez not only completed the program, but also excelled at it, said Chelsey Cook, CodeHS coordinator at Highlands. The students earn points for completing coursework. They expected students to earn about 100 points by the end of the year. Rodriguez earned more than 600 points.

On Tuesday, Rodriguez and 27 other students, the outstanding performers in the class from Highlands, took a field trip to Rackspace to tour the high tech campus in San Antonio. They also gave a brief presentation demonstrating some of the skills they learned in the program.

This past school year, the entire freshman class at Highlands High School, more than 450 students, in the San Antonio Independent School District, participated in CodeHS, a web-based platform to teach kids to code. Rackspace Hosting’s Chairman Graham Weston’s 80/20 Foundation provided a grant to fund the program.

The coursework teaches the students how to write their own code through interactive games, which then progress into more complex projects and lessons. The program includes dozens of tutorial videos and hands on training.

“I learned that even if there’s something wrong with your computer, you can fix it and understand it,” said Lucinda Angel, a freshman at Highlands. “I feel so connected to the computer.“

For many people, understanding computers is difficult, Angel said.

“But since we’ve been working on it all year, I understand its language now,” she said.

Angel wants to be a lawyer and she’s hoping she can get a job working for Rackspace.

“I’m not a geek or anything,” she said. “But geeks rule.”

CodeHS motivated the students and expanded their horizons, said Joan Jackson, CodeHS teacher.
“This exposed them to so much more,” Jackson said.

A lot of students’ talents came out during CodeHS, said Cook, the program’s coordinator. Some of the students who got average grades in other courses, excelled in CodeHS, she said. And the computer programming coursework helped complement what the students learned in other classes like math and science, she said.

The CodeHS program lets students work at their own pace, Cook said. It also prepares them for college and for the workforce for computer programming jobs that are in demand.

“If they don’t get exposure in high school, they are less likely to know about those opportunities when they get in college,” she said.

Next year, the students who have gone through the program will take advanced computer programming and will serve as mentors to the freshman taking the Code HS course, Cook said.

“We really strongly believe in the model that CodeHS has set up,” said Daniel Sherrill, spokesman with Rackspace.

“We’re looking for ways for our Rackers to further engage with the kids,” Sherrill said.
Rackspace is also interested in applying the CodeHS model to others schools in San Antonio, Sherrill said.

“Anything that is creating that future talent pipeline is something Rackspace is interested in,” he said.
In June, Rackspace will host a high school hackathon with more than 500 students. It’s inviting kids from CodeHS to participate in the hackathon, Sherrill said.

“It’s an opportunity for students to connect with other students from all over who are passionate about code,” Sherrill said.

“We are thrilled with our partnership with San Antonio ISD and Highlands High School,” said Scott Meltzer, deputy director with the 80/20 Foundation. The San Antonio CodeHS program is the second largest in the country, he said.

The CodeHS program will continue next year in a “targeted and focused manner” with about 150 freshman and sophomore students at Highlands High School, Meltzer said. The program focuses on preparing the students to enter a job-training program like Cloud Academy or CodeUp in San Antonio or to go on to pursue a college degree, he said.

The CodeHS program is directly connected to San Antonio’s workforce needs, Meltzer said.

“It’s the next step on their pathway to pursuing high tech jobs in San Antonio,” Meltzer said.

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