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Wesley Chapel parent helps students connect coding to everyday life

Wesley Chapel During the week of Dec. 4, Union County Public Schools celebrated Computer Science Education Week, the annual nationwide celebration that highlights the importance of computer science in education systems.

Every UCPS student spent the week practicing computer science-related skills that included analyzing and interpreting data, planning and carrying out investigations, designing solutions and more.

When Wesley Chapel Elementary parent David Newell, who works in the technology sector at Bank of America, learned that the school district was expanding its recognition of Hour of Code to a weeklong celebration of computer science, he didn’t hesitate to volunteer to spend the week teaching computer science to Wesley Chapel Elementary students in every grade level.

“At work, coding is part of what I do. (Wesley Chapel Elementary teacher) Ms. Mayfield knew that I worked with computers, so she reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to help out this week,” David said, adding that he’s enjoyed volunteering for the past few years during the school’s Hour of Code sessions. “And I said, Absolutely.”

As he guided a class of kindergarteners through programs and exercises, David said that his focus when working with the students isn’t specifically about teaching them to code. It’s about taking the code other people have written and leveraging it to do even more, he said.

“They are working on computer science skills, and that includes problem solving, constructing sequences and pattern recognition. So what they’re doing is definitely more than just sitting here and writing code,” he said. “At the end of this week, I want the students to have walked away not being afraid of a computer or even afraid of something they’ve never seen or done before. When faced with a challenge, I want them to say to themselves, “I can do this. I can get in there and figure it out.’”

Fourth grade student Ava Lanzy said that while she plans to be an artist when she grows up, she looks forward to her coding sessions with David each year.

“I really enjoy it. It’s fun and cool because I get to work on doing strategies and things like that,” Ava said. “Yes, it’s coding, but it’s also a workout for your brain.”

Echoing that sentiment, Ava’s classmate Chrys Rigas said that he has also worked on coding during the school’s Hour of Code sessions during the past several years, and really enjoyed working with again this year.

“I love it. It’s really fun, it keeps me energized and makes me feel good about myself,” he said, adding that he wants to be a dentist when he grows up. “I think it’s going to help me in the future because it teaches me to think more before making a decision.”

Third grade teacher Kim Mayfield, who organized the coding sessions, said parents and community member who volunteered during Computer Science Education Week were instrumental in helping to demystify coding and computer science for students.

And the biggest walk away from having someone in the community help, is that students have an opportunity to hear about computer science from someone other than their teachers, said Wesley Chapel Principal Dr. Mike Henderson.

“To hear from someone like Mr. Newell, who works with software all day, and have them be able to parallel that experience with a class of kindergartners is just invaluable,” he said. “Our volunteers are helping students make real life connections.”