Polk State collegiate students get youth excited about STEM and coding

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Dozens of third- through fifth-graders fill the computer lab at Oscar J. Pope Elementary each Wednesday after school, eager to learn coding from Polk State Lakeland Collegiate and Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate high school students in the recently established Technology Club.

The club, which is passionate about learning how to lead others in a technologically advancing world, builds upon the strong relationship between Oscar J. Pope Elementary and Polk State College’s collegiate high schools, which continue to develop service-learning projects that benefit students from both schools.

“We’re teaching kids how to think logically in a systematic way that will help them succeed in all areas of school and life,” said Philip Sawyer, a Lakeland Collegiate senior who serves as President of the Technology Club. “Everything they are learning, even if they don’t realize it now, will correlate for them later. We are instilling in them a passion for technology that will only benefit them, no matter what they end up pursuing later in their lives and future careers.”

“We’re teaching kids how to think logically in a systematic way that will help them succeed in all areas of school and life.” — Philip Sawyer, Technology Club President

Sawyer aspires to become a video-game developer – an interest that sparked in the seventh grade when he was introduced to the program Scratch, which the high school students utilize to teach the elementary schoolers coding.

Virginia Richard, Instructional Technologist for both collegiate high schools on the Lakeland Campus and Advisor of the Technology Club, explained that the partnership between Polk State and Oscar J. Pope Elementary is a learning experience for students of all ages.

“Our students have become technology coaches. They train themselves in the program, develop the lessons for the elementary students, and gain that teaching experience that makes them true experts in the content area,” Richard said. “At the same time, the elementary students are becoming aware of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and developing foundational skills that allow them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.”

The weekly one-hour after-school program has gained so much popularity with students and parents at the Title I school that there is currently a waitlist of more than 40 children who wish to participate. Richard is looking into the logistics of expanding the program by holding lessons in two computer labs.

Polk State’s collegiate high schools and Oscar J. Pope Elementary have partnered in many ways to provide mentorship for the elementary students and service-learning opportunities for the high schoolers. The Technology Club, the National Honor Society, Interact Club, and United Way Club participate in various projects and programs at Oscar J. Pope Elementary, which Lakeland Collegiate High School has “adopted.”

Oscar J. Pope Elementary Principal Carol E. Griffin recalls the first Technology Club meeting at her school.

“Our students were walking out and saying, ‘this was the best day ever,’” Griffin said. “Many of these students have never been exposed to what they are learning each Wednesday. We have been so blessed to have this partnership with Polk State’s collegiate high schools and we are looking forward to future opportunities that this partnership will bring.”

“Our students were walking out and saying, ‘this was the best day ever.” — Oscar J. Pope Elementary Principal Carol E. Griffin

Richard said she is amazed by the response the Technology Club has received from students, parents, faculty, and administration at Oscar J. Pope Elementary.

“The collegiate high schools partner with the elementary school in many ways, and the partnership has continued to flourish, benefiting their students by providing supplemental curriculum and mentorship, as well as our students who are participating in service learning while refining their skills,” she said.

Polk State students have bought into the partnership with great enthusiasm and commitment to working with the elementary schoolers. They agree that the experience is giving them skills they will need on their higher-education journeys and in future careers while they give younger students the foundation to be successful in their futures too.

“We’re helping young students to recognize their potential and the opportunities that are out there, whether those opportunities already exist or will exist in the future as STEM grows,” said Carina Torre, a Lakeland Collegiate junior. “At the same time, it’s giving us the opportunity to learn how to teach, communicate, and get more in-depth with the critical thinking that comes along with using technology.”

D’Nysha Norris, a Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate junior, echoed similar motivations for participating in the Technology Club and program at Oscar J. Pope Elementary.

“If you can learn to teach, that expertise will translate into the workforce where you can not only do the task, but also train others to do the task, which is a valuable skill to employers,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to know we are helping these students get further ahead in life, even if we open one small door for them.”