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If you listen closely as you walk into Denver’s Silicon STEM Academy in University Park, there’s hardly any racket of students or teachers pleading for quiet. Instead, you’ll hear the clicking of computer keyboards and the modest beeping of triggered circuit-board sensors, all amid the collaboration between instructor and pupil. “They’re here because they want to be here,” says Coding 101 Instructor Eileen Adair. “Here there’s no test, no quiz. They’re all here for the sake of learning.”
This after-school technology training center opened in January after cofounders John and Kelly Scarborough saw a need to fill the gap for tech-interested kids who want to learn more than their traditional schools can provide. “So many parents say they’re grateful to find us,” Kelly says. “This is what they’re looking for.” Not long ago, they were those very same parents, seeking a programming class for their tech-loving oldest son, Evan, now a sophomore at the Colorado School of Mines. “Not every kid is into sports or music,” John says. “Evan considered tech ‘his sport,’ and we wanted to nurture, enrich, and encourage his interest.” But the entrepreneurial couple was stunned to find there were no options for their son outside of community college classes. So, they decided to rectify that.
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Offering hands-on enrichment classes in computer programming, robotics, Arduino electronics, and digital media, this is the place where students are encouraged to “Unleash Your Inner Geek.” The curriculum focuses on four STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math. These academic cores address the critical need for more computer skills in today’s workforce. According to Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding students’ access to computer science, in Colorado alone there are almost 16,000 coding and computing jobs, yet fewer than 500 students are graduating with computer science degrees. Who will fill these positions?
Probably kids like 14-year-old Abby, a Coding 101 student. She’s learning simple tasks like programming a computer dog to follow commands to climb stairs and fetch balls. “This is just more my level, and I’m learning new things,” she says. “I love it.” Teaching these kids is akin to a literature teacher instructing voracious readers, says Matt “Spamp” Spampinato, the Academy’s chief academic advisor. Except these kids love technology. “We’re teaching them things that they’re already interacting with,” he says. “We’re just unlocking doors for them.”
The Silicon STEM Academy offers afternoon, evening, and weekend courses for kids (approximately 11–17) and adults, as well as summer-camp options. Math and science tutoring and ACT/SAT preparatory classes are also available.
—Photo courtesy of Shutterstock