Park City elementary to pilot coding program
Like most school districts, Park City offers its students the usual language subjects. English, of course, is a given, and students can also study foreign languages such as Spanish or French.
Starting next year, some students will find themselves learning a language that is not like those others, but continues to become more prevalent in society: coding. The school district has announced that one of its elementary schools will be piloting a coding curriculum program created by the tech company Emerald Data Solutions.
The program, which is being designed to primarily benefit diverse inner-city schools, will be tested in Park City next year, then launched nationwide.
Ari Ioannides, CEO and founder of Emerald Data Solutions, said coding has become an important skill in the 21st century. To illustrate his point, he described a meeting he had with several other CEOs that first got him thinking about creating a coding program for students.
"Looking around the room, it struck me how they were all guys for the most part and all white, and they all knew how to code," said Ioannides, a Park City resident. "They weren’t all writing programs, but they were all competent in the language of code."
The two things that illustrated to Ioannides were: Coding skills must have something to do with success, and not enough minorities had access to learning those skills.
So he decided to try to help fix the problem — one that he sees as only growing.
"It seems like the language of code is everywhere," Ioannides said. "I mean, it permeates our society probably close to how much English does. It is a second language of the world, and people who can’t speak it can’t adequately function, I don’t think, in the new economy. So if that’s the case, why aren’t we teaching it in schools? To me, that’s a big problem."
Ioannides said some may question the need to teach coding, given the fact "not everyone is going to become the next Mark Zuckerberg," the man who created Facebook. To those doubters, he has a simple response.
"We teach English, don’t we?" he said. "But we don’t expect everyone to be Hemingway. Not everyone is going to write the next great American novel, but they know how to read and write English. So why can’t we teach coding?"
Abby McNulty, executive director of the Park City Education Foundation, sees learning how to write code as an exciting opportunity for Park City students. That’s why when Ioannides first told her about the coding program, she passed the information to Ember Conley, superintendent of the Park City School District, which piqued the district’s interest in the program.
"I mean, who wouldn’t buy into that?" McNulty said. "We have a diverse student population here in Park City, so I thought it would be a great benefit to our kids. What a great skill that would be for our kids to learn."
The district’s response was clear: They wanted to be a part of the program, despite not fitting Ioannides’ inner-city target demographic. Ioannides said Conley had an interesting idea to overcome that hurdle. Park City could pilot the program and refine it before inner-city districts apply for a grant for the program in 2016.
"Ember sold me on the idea," Ioannides said. "I was not at all interested in doing this here, but she’s loaning us the expertise of her administration to help make the program a reality."
McNulty said the district is in the process of finalizing which elementary school will test the program next year. Currently, the idea is to integrate the coding curriculum with other subjects.
"Students learn in different ways, so to learn how to code through ways through other subjects should be helpful," McNulty said. "Interdisciplinary learning is a really powerful way to learn."
Ioannides said he expects coding to be taught in more Park City schools in the future. If the program goes according to plan this year, coding courses could eventually be implemented in all four elementary schools and continue through high school.
"I think this is a full-time thing," he said. "I think this is in Park City to stay."
A Parkite who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 is giving scholarships and internships to three first-generation graduates from PCHS.