Growing up, Shontya Washington watched her father code and fell in love with computers.
She recalls sitting at her father’s feet, drawing on dot matrix paper as he problem-solved on the old machines. Now as a software engineer, she wants to help kids in Frederick County, Va. see where coding can take them.
The Frederick County school board representative for the Redbud district says science, technology, engineering, and math–known as STEM– teaches kids critical thinking skills, which can be applied to any field.
“The beauty of it is even if you are just learning how to do those principles, you don’t have to necessarily stay in a computer coding type of job,” said Washington. “You can go into mechanics, you can go into medical. There are all these different places where these core principles are going to be used.”
On Wednesday, Washington spoke at Redbud Run Elementary School along with Frederick County graduate Jeff Martin as part of the school’s “Hour of Code” day — the inaugural event marking Virginia’s Computer Science Education week.
Martin, Millbrook High School class of 2011, taught himself to code when he was 17 using Youtube tutorials. Now 25, he works as a software developer for a company based near Atlanta. He wants students to see STEM as a means to positively change the world.
“If you run a company making food, you impact the local area, the people that are coming to eat. But if you make software, you can impact the entire world,” said Martin.
After hearing from Washington and Martin, students went back to their classrooms to work on coding various projects they had begun in their STEM classes. Katy Dickinson’s third grade class was coding computer games and many of the students say they now want to code when they grow up.
“Because I play so many video games, I think it would be cool to have like, I play the video game that I made,” said Addison Evers.
Dickinson says it’s a long ways away from her days in the computer lab growing up.
“When I was younger and in elementary school, the big thing was Oregon Trail,” she said, adding that her students seem to love going to STEM class. “It’s definitely their favorite part of the week and I know that they’re learning a lot of life skills in STEM and so I’m really happy that we have it.”
Redbud Run Elementary is actually one of two pilot programs for STEM classes in the district. The program was first started as an school club and its creator, STEM teacher Scarlett Kibler, hopes to see it in all of the elementary schools as a way to prepare students for future careers in the STEM fields.
“I’d like to see Frederick County graduates leaving our school system, being able to walk into $80,000 a year software jobs because they understand how to write code, they understand engineering,” Kibler said. “That’s where we need to be.”