Coding class strikes a chord with students

Hanshaw Middle School 8th grader Isael Cárdenas gets help in coding by Ricardo Maravilla-García during the CodeX Summer Program in South Modesto.
Hanshaw Middle School 8th grader Isael Cárdenas gets help in coding by Ricardo Maravilla-García during the CodeX Summer Program in South Modesto. Special to Vida en el Valle

Staying home doing nothing during her summer vacation was not appealing to Xóchitl Ramírez so she decided to enroll in a computer coding class instead.

The 13-year-old and 23 other junior high teenagers are part of the seven-week CodeX Program which is currently underway at Hanshaw Middle School in South Modesto.

“It’s been really fun. I enjoy it. It keeps me and teaches me. If I was home I would be doing nothing,” said Ramírez as she sat in front of the computer working on an assignment last Wednesday.

Ramírez hopes that the coding she learns this summer will be useful for her future goals. “I want to be a veterinarian and so I must learn how X-Rays work; how meds work; how the MRI’s work, so for that I be needing how to use computers.”

Ramírez is definitely getting a head start.

This is the program’s first year and Emmanuel Escamilla, who lead this effort along with South Modesto partnerships, was astonished with the response.

After getting the word out on the CodeX Program, Escamilla said they received 120 applications but were only able to narrow it down to 24 students.

“I knew the response would be interesting but I never knew it would be on that level for being a pilot program,” said Escamilla, who grew up in South Modesto. “I was expecting (a large turnout) years down the road so I wasn’t expecting it. It’s an amazing thing. It shows the desire, the need, the wanting of the students to learn this.”

Escamilla came up with the idea for the CodeX Program after attending UC Berkeley and talking to computer scientists.

“They said that coding and programming, technology, marketing — things like that — are really going to be the driving force for the future so I wanted to come back to the community and give students here a head start,” he said.

Escamilla sprung into action and connected with South Modesto organizations who in turn partnered with Datapath, which is the program’s funder, City Ministry Network, Modesto City Schools and Apostolic Jubilee Center. The class is free of charge.

Escamilla received his Bachelor’s in Education and Religious Studies from UC Berkeley and will be attending Harvard in August. He is studying Theology and plans to go to law school.

“This (coding) isn’t really related to my major but I realize the importance so I really wanted to learn it and give something back to my community,” said Escamilla. “I’m not a computer scientist but I did take a lot of courses while in college so I feel like I have the knowledge to know how to be able to show them what to do.”

CodeX students meet twice a week at Hanshaw Middle School for three hours. The first two are dedicated to coding and programming; they break for lunch and the last half hour is used for recreation.

“They get to do something fun, so they are not just on the computers all day,” explained Nathaniel Aguirre, one of the adult volunteers supervising the students.

Aguirre said that even though his major is Psychology at CSU Stanislaus, the CodeX class has made him think about a minor in Computer Programming.

“This class has really changed my ways. I’m learning (coding) as we go, along with these students,” Aguirre said. “It’s really interesting to see what these kids are doing.”

During Wednesday’s class, 7th grader Amelia Ávalos focused on her assignment.

She said the class was very interesting and it has helped her how to use the technology on a computer.

The 11-year-old hopes to make a difference one day.

“By using the computer, I could learn something that could possibly help cure caner in the future,” she said.

In the next row over, 13-year-old Abel Huaracha said the class was challenging at the beginning but he was now “getting the hang of it.”

The 7th grader has a clear idea of what he wants.

“I want a good career and a better life. As I keep progressing in my education, I’ll be a better person. This will be a good head start for me,” said Huaracha, who likes computers but is also thinking of following a career in engineering and possibly law school.

It’s all about exposure, said Escamilla.

“Exposing them to new things is the greatest gift you can give these kids,” he said. “I wanted to expose them. Some of them probably didn’t really know what computer science was; a lot of them never knew that Google had this amazing headquarters; and, they didn’t think they could go to Stanford or Berkeley, which we will be taking them to those schools. It’s all about exposure.”

Escamilla said that once the summer is over, they want to hold on to this group of students.

“We don’t want to let go of these kids, we want to hold on to them, so we are going to loop them for a couple of years. We really want to develop their skills. The goal with the program was to either give the students the option upon graduation of high school to either go to college or get a job right after and we believe that with this skill they will be able to do just that. In order to develop the skill enough we need them for three to four years,” Escamilla said.

He noted that the CodeX Program will return next summer but in the meantime, those that were not selected for this summer’s class, will get another chance on July 27 during a Code Night event.

“Every student that applied will be invited for a three hour immersion into what coding is, so we are not completely disregarding the students that didn’t get accepted. We are giving them the opportunity to get a basic understanding of what we did over the summer,” Escamilla explained.

And for the 24 students in this year’s class, Escamilla already sees a lot of potential.

“When they have the opportunity to watch a movie or go outside and play but they just want to code, that says a lot. It’s been beyond my wildest dreams that they are glued to the computers. They want to code. I think we’ve struck a chord with them,” he said. “I really want these kids to be better than me so giving them this opportunity is definitely how they can do that.”

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