Cerritos Elementary School, a computer science immersion magnet, recently held its first Epic Build Coding Showcase of the school year where students proudly showed off all the progress they have made so far in their yearlong coding projects to their families and community members.
With computer science and coding weaved into the curriculum at Cerritos through a partnership with Code to the Future, students in every grade, including transitional kindergarten, participate in a yearlong project unique to each grade level. These projects are broken into three separate parts with their own showcase to give parents and community members the chance to see students’ evolving progress throughout the year.
Karineh Avanessian, a sixth grade teacher at Cerritos, emphasized that having multiple showcases throughout the year allows parents to see more than just the final product of their students’ projects.
“Parents have the chance to see their kids in action … They also get to see how students troubleshoot and come up with different ways of coding the same thing,” Avanessian told the News-Press.
Cerritos has been implementing computer science and coding into their curriculum for the last six years, meaning this year’s sixth graders who have been at the school since kindergarten have been building their coding skills since then.
Sixth grader Sangamithra Balasubramanian admitted that when she first started coding in kindergarten, it was very hard for her. She had to learn to pay extra close attention to her teachers because learning to code requires retaining precise instruction.
“It’s important for students to learn to code at a young age because after you learn the basics, you get into more advanced coding as you get into the higher grades,” Balasubramanian told the News-Press.
Peter Ayala, who teaches second grade and is a robotics coach at the school, described the students’ natural ability to jump into the coding world at such young ages.
“The kids have a natural apt towards technology that I can feel,” Ayala told the News-Press. “Once they get into proper coding and proper use of the materials that they have, you just see their eyes light up.”
Noah Bergere, a sixth grader who was chosen to do a presentation in front of everyone at the Oct. 23 showcase, had an interest in game development at an early age, but found there was never really a way to learn how to do it on his own with limited resources. This all changed when he was in first grade and was introduced to “Scratch,” a visual programming language, in his computer lab class.
“Scratch was my first ever programming language that I ever learned,” Bergere said. “It was probably the best thing that has happened to me because it helped me learn the basic steps of programming.”
In addition to the future employment benefits students will see from having an extensive coding background, Avanessian said coding helps the students come up with their own creative solutions.
“We’re not just teaching students how to code,” she said. “We’re teaching them how to become independent problem solvers, which is a skill that we all need in the real world.”
Gor Jaghatspanyan, a sixth grader at Cerritos and the student council president, said he loves comparing his project with those of his peers to see the “different ways of getting the same results.”
Avanessian feels the showcases are a great opportunity to build up students’ self-esteem as they get to show their parents the technical skills they have been honing so far in the school year.
“Students take pride in being the teacher because they don’t always get that chance to teach something to their parents,” Avanessian said, adding that for students, it’s almost always the parents teaching them. “So when the role is reversed, they really take pride in that and parents love to just sit there and watch their kid explain something to them.”
Ayala shared similar sentiments, noting that parents often underestimate just how much their kids are able to do with code until they see their work at the showcase.
Bergere said he uses the concept of LEGOs to explain coding to people who aren’t familiar with the concept, emphasizing that each piece of the code builds off the last piece, much like a LEGO set.
At Cerritos, teachers are required to teach a minimum of one hour of coding per week and many teachers implement coding into other subjects as well.
For example, Avanessian has her sixth graders build coding projects that are in line with ancient civilization lessons where students create models of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, the Valley of the Kings and the Pyramids.
Diana Hernandez, the principal at Cerritos, said the school is an “unknown gem in the Glendale Unified School District” and highlighted its diverse community with the largest Hispanic and Spanish-speaking population and largest Black population in the district.
“I want my students here at Cerritos to have access and opportunity to what students in the more affluent areas of Glendale have access to,” Hernandez told the News-Press. “It’s really important for me to be able to provide that as a school.”
Hernandez also highlighted the GUSD and other community partners who make everything at Cerritos possible, including Code to the Future, Dignity Health, Glendale Kiwanis and CalFresh.
First published in the November 11 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.