Coding classes in local elementary schools are setting students up for success

A coding initiative aims to teach younger students practical skills that could lead them to STEM-related fields.

Elementary school library classes across the nation do not just focus on the Dewey Decimal Classification and reading comprehension anymore. Some library classes are teaching a new literacy – computer coding.

This trend is on the rise as computer skills become increasingly important for many jobs. A Gallup study found that 40 percent of schools in the U.S. teach computer programming.

"Computing makes up two-thirds of STEM careers."
- Bureau of Labor Statistics

In the summer of 2016, Hughes Elementary School and The Syracuse Latin School introduced coding to their students in a district pilot program. The success and interest of the class provided at their combined after-school program influenced the schools to continue coding education through the 2016–2017 school year. All 17 Syracuse City School District elementary schools now provide coding experience to students.

Manami Tezuka, the SCSD library supervisor, said she believes teaching coding to children builds math skills, logical thinking and computational thinking that is critical for understanding higher level concepts later in life.

“They just have a natural inclination to love it,” she said.

Early this August, the two schools concluded their second summer school program where roughly 80 students participated in computer coding and robotics activities. Students met a few times a week to work with websites like and various machines like the Dash robot.

The coding skills the children learn are very basic but gradually increase in difficulty as the program moves forward, Tezuka said.

Kayla Maine, the library specialist at Hughes Elementary School and The Syracuse Latin School, teaches coding classes throughout the year. She said she feels lucky to watch the students have fun while they are learning, though some may not be fully aware of what they are doing.

During the school year at Hughes Elementary School and The Syracuse Latin School, students can apply for enrichment clusters which are elective courses added to the students’ basic education. Enrichment clusters focus on skills not typically taught in schools, like African drumming or yoga.

This coming year, the schools will be exploring a quarterly cluster option with more science, technology, engineering and math options like coding and robotics, according to Krista Hunter, the vice principal for both schools. Although clusters allow for deeper education in these areas, Maine touches on the STEM skills throughout the school year in library classes to ensure every child will get the same exposure.

In addition to future benefits, The Syracuse Latin School principal, Kelly Manard, said coding lessons in library classes can help students balance their grades. A student who may excel in coding but struggle in another subject is able to lessen the impact of a poor grade by earning a higher grade in coding.

After elementary school, SCSD students can choose to delve further into computer programming as electives in middle school and high school.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computing makes up two-thirds of STEM careers. By 2024, 199,700 new software developing and programming jobs will become available.

Although Tezuka stresses that the elementary coding education is more creative than technical, it begins the groundwork for students who may be interested in computer programming.

SCSD has shifted its focus toward career and technical skills in the recent years. Schools work on this by trying to relate to students and teach them skills they can actually use in their careers, like coding, Hunter said.

“It’s keeping a lot of kids who may have dropped out or not finished school, in school,” Hunter said.

Maine said she believes programs like coding show that the district is fully invested in the children’s futures, despite any, “bad city school reputation.”

Seamus Reagan, 8, will be a fourth-grader at The Syracuse Latin School this fall. Reagan has participated in the coding and robotics cluster three times. His mother, Michelle Case, sees the importance of variety in skills taught at schools.

“I think the more opportunities you give them, the better chance they have of finding their niche,” she said.

Seamus’ coding dream? He said he wants to make the robots fly.

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