Students, Community Enthusiastically Embrace Computer Science

John Jara teaches PLTW at Garcia Enriquez Middle School in San Elizario, Texas.  

My name is John Jara, and I teach Project Lead The Way computer science coursework at Garcia Enriquez Middle School (GEMS) in San Elizario, Texas. This district is an economically disadvantaged area with a high ESL population. I was an 8th grade science teacher before becoming a PLTW teacher. I was initially concerned with making this career move, because I was uncertain of the students’ interest in this subject. Once I made it to the training, everyone was so nice and supportive. Although the course was intensive, the instructors were very well versed in the curriculum and helpful. Now more knowledgeable on what the course entailed, I returned home to get ready for the first day of school, and all the initial fears returned.  

When the students entered the class, however, they were very energetic and actually quite eager to become programmers. The students and I jumped head-first into the program, and these middle school students were quickly absorbing the material. It did not matter if there was a language barrier or learning disability – all students were learning; producing products that exceeded the minimum requirements; and more importantly, having fun. The impact these classes had on the students’ self-esteem was exciting. These students were now walking around with more confidence and doing better in their core classes because they felt part of something special – they were GEMS programmers.

My GEMS programmers and I had many achievements during this first year of implementation, including receiving recognition from two local news broadcasts, winning awards in the GEMS STEM expo, becoming an advisory school on implementation to a local school district, and becoming a PLTW panel participant at the 2016 PLTW State Conference in Houston, Texas, where we discussed the program experiences and implementation.

So all the hard work paid off. This program was a success! And now we are even more prepared and determined to educate the campus and community on the benefits and impact this class has on the students of San Elizario.

This year, the students are taking the basic programs and concepts from the class and going to the next level by creating more complex and involved programs. At this early point in the course, anything the students can imagine, they are able to create. Just like last year, these students are working on the programs at home and are eager to learn more skills for their “toolbox” when creating apps. This year, the GEMS programmers are trying to create programs that benefit and assist the campus to make work less tedious.

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be part of this program and to have had the chance to bring these classes to this community. I am filled with a sense of pride every time I see students figure out problems they’re having with their programs. I hope in the future we are able to bring more of these PLTW courses to my campus. Everyone in our district has risen to the challenge, and I am especially grateful to our superintendent, assistant superintendent, district coordinator, and campus instructional specialist for all the confidence and support. I would especially like to thank the students of San Elizario for going on this journey with me.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.