Innovative excellence in Covina school

June 11, 2018 Staff Writer

At Barranca Elementary School in Covina, every student codes. Kids as young as 4 are able to not only write code, but are also taught to articulate what they’re coding. Kim Sheehan, Barranca Elementary principal, said that by 2020 her district aims to have every school be a coding immersion school, with students from TK to 12th grade involved not only in coding robotics projects but also coding across the curriculum. If the district succeeds, they may be the first district in the nation to facilitate each student coding on a daily basis.

Barranca’s arrival at innovative ideas and future-oriented success did not come without a lot of hard work and planning. The school was struggling with a declining enrollment problem and were looking for an identity that would be something that kids loved and would help prepare them for their future.

Coding is perhaps the single most important job skill of the future. In the United States and across the world, demand for computer programmers is high, freelance tech work is abundant, and coding knowledge can be useful in many roles in various industries.

“Code is a universal language across any dual immersion language,” Kim Sheehan said. “Everybody codes. And everybody codes in practically the same languages. Whether you’re in Japan, Africa, South America, North America, anywhere you are, coding is a language. So code is our second language here.”

Barranca partnered with Cisco to expand their efforts to get students participating in “coding the core.”

“It’s not only learning to code but learning to code it in the core content areas. Then you’re not only having fun, but you’re learning really valuable academic lessons at the same time,” Kim Sheehan said.

High schools in the district are also making efforts to invite university professors onto campuses to discuss coding.

District Superintendent Richard Sheehan said that he loves to see how excited students get about coding. He said technology is quickly becoming inseparable from factors like college readiness and ease of adaptability.

“[When we made] a decision to prepare kids for their future, we realized that coding or computer programming was playing a bigger role in everyday life,” Richard Sheehan said.

Coding is just one aspect of education at Covina schools.

“It’s another tool they use to demonstrate what [students can] do,” Superintendent Sheehan said. “Coding is not the end-all be-all. But it’s truly where their future is. I’m excited for the opportunities our kids are going to have. If you jump five or 10 years down the road, I think our kids are going to be doing some pretty phenomenal things for themselves and have opportunities to go into the workforce, earning over $100,000 without a college education.”

Payton Rehmer, a Barranca Elementary fifth grader, described how it feels to watch electronics come to life because of written code.

“[At first], it wasn’t that fun,” Peyton said. “Because there was a lot of work involved in it. [But now], you add the code, and you can see this little robot move around with all the things that you put in to the computer. My favorite part is probably seeing the robot work its things. It’s so exciting to see what the robot is doing after you’ve worked so hard trying to make it work. My other classmates have loved coding. I can see them working and then their robot and their faces just light up with joy. It’s exciting for me because coding is a fun thing to do in school.”

Teacher and Media Center Learning Specialist Julie Rehmer said that being in the midst of all the innovation is exciting, scary and nerve-wracking, even as parents and students flock to the district.

“I teach here and I bring my son to school here because of the opportunities that Covina offers,” Julie Rehmer said. “A lot of [the attraction] is the technology opportunities in our district. Being on the cutting edge is definitely a plus. We are in the business of educating kids. We are in the business of not just looking at our kids from a kindergarten through fifth grade perspective. We’re looking at the bigger scheme of things. And that’s reassuring as a parent.”

Julie Rehmer said that Superintendent Sheehan is a visionary.

“He sees way further down the road,” she said. “He’s not putting out fires. He’s laying the groundwork for our kids. And he sees the future of that. It’s exciting to be a part of it.”

Coding also gives a voice to students who might enjoy learning about technology.

“It’s amazing to see some of those students who struggle in some areas able to blossom and to shine with using technology,” Julie Rehmer said. “And it has brought them out and given them confidence. And it’s given them perseverance.”

Coding is now inseparable from Barranca’s identity and their goal of making history.

“It’s part of who we are,” Julie Rehmer said. “Some schools identify as being bilingual. Well, we are bilingual. We’re just bilingual in a technology language. Everything that we do throughout our day has technology woven into it.”

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