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12 High Poverty Elementary Schools Start Incorporating Computer Science

Katie Peikes
Students at Loess Hills Elementary are learning everything from the basics of coding through activities and games to using actual coding programs like Kodable and Tinker. This school in Sioux City is the blueprint for others statewide.

Twelve elementary schools across Iowa with high poverty levels are preparing to transform into schools that use computer science in their studies.
These 12 schools each got $50,000 in private or state funds. They’re using the money to integrate computer science into their core subjects like math, social studies, and even gym class.

Carrie Rankin, the associate director for the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, has visited Loess Hills Elementary School in Sioux City, the blueprint school for this initiative. Rankin said students seem to gain a lot of confidence from a computer science curriculum.

“In the fifth grade, we saw with social studies and how they were animating stories about settlers in our country and using technology to do that,” Rankin said. “It’s just incredible what these students are learning, and at the pace that they are.”

High-poverty schools across Iowa applied for these grants between January and March to transform their schools by the 2020-2021 school year. Six schools were chosen in late April, and six more were selected in early June with additional funding that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds allocated for the STEM council. Loess Hills Elementary also got $50,000 to expand its programs. 

Perry Elementary School in the Perry Community School District is one of the 12 schools that was awarded a grant. Principal Ned Menke said they are using this school year as a pilot year for computer science, with at least one teacher per grade level working to integrate it into their classroom. Menke said the goal is to unveil it building-wide in the 2020-2021 school year.

Jobs that use computer science include programming, web development and information technology. Staci Hupp, the communications director for the Iowa Department of Education, said computer science is seen as a basic skill in today’s economy.

“This is about preparing students, giving them the foundation so that if they’re interested in these types of jobs, they can take advanced coursework and be prepared to really study this further,” Hupp said. 

One student who said he could potentially pursue a career in computer science is Langston Saint of Sioux  City. Saint graduated from Loess Hills Elementary last year. He said he learned a lot about coding and computers and was able to apply these to other subjects in school.

Saint enjoys engaging in computer programing in his own time at home and has been working this summer to develop a mobile phone app – an addictive game, he said.

“I really enjoy working with computers," Saint said. "I believe computer jobs can only grow from here. It does seem like a viable option for the 21st century.”

Rankin said the 12 schools selected for the computer science grants will mostly spend this year planning their programs for the 2020-2021 school year, or some may launch them right away. Rankin said schools will report to the council throughout the year on how their programs and planning are working.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter