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Getting Your Code On

By Pamela Price and Debi Pfitzenmaier | Oct 20 2014

San Antonio Youth Code Jam is the largest elementary and middle school coding event in the region

PamelaPrice_DebiPfitzenmaier copyBy Pamela Price and Debi Pfitzenmaier

On Saturday, September 20, hundreds of San Antonio area youth and their parents participated in the third-annual San Antonio Youth Code Jam, a project of SASTEMIC. The event seeks to engage elementary and middle school in technology by introducing them to a variety of coding activities and programming languages early on… all with an eye to nurturing the Alamo City’s homegrown technology workforce.

Since inception, the program, which is certified awesome by SA2020, has expanded from 40 participants at the Molly Pruitt Library its first year to nearly 300 this year at Rackspace, one of several corporate sponsors who have signed on to support the initiative. Other corporate sponsors include the 80/20 Foundation, Conceptual MindWorks, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Hallmark College and NCI, Inc, among others.

SA Code Jam - Learning Scratch.

Learning Scratch. Photo credit: Open Book Studios

“We are proud to support the San Antonio Youth Code Jam because it takes experiential learning to the next level by specializing in an interactive web development and programming event for parents and students. This collaboration builds a deeper level of engagement and support for students to be inspired and pursue the high-skill technology-related career paths we need in our knowledge economy, “ says Lorenzo Gomez, III, executive director of the 80/20 Foundation.

More than 100 industry professionals, college students and high school volunteers helped mentor the students and parents as they explored eight different learning stations scattered throughout the building. Luke Wright drove all the way up from Austin to help. A junior at Austin High School, Write said, “It’s really cool watching the kids learn HTML and CSS. I started learning the same stuff when I was about 13 from teenagers who were my age now It’s let me get jobs, friends and travel the country. It’s amazing watching how quickly the kids pick it up.”

SA Code Jam - High School students from Highlands High School mentoring.

High School students from Highlands High School mentoring. Photo credit: Open Book Studios

“It’s been exciting to witness the rapid growth of the San Antonio Youth Code Jam over the past three years,” said Cara Nichols, director of Community Affairs at Rackspace. “This growth is not only an indicator of the success of the San Antonio Youth Code Jam, but it is also an indicator of the youth’s growing demand for opportunities to learn how to code and the importance of making these learning experiences readily available to them.  Their early exposure to the types of skills and passion is something companies like Rackspace want and need.”

This year’s keynote speaker was John Saddington of The Iron Yard. In his speech, Saddington shared his story of personal transformation from a struggling elementary school student to accomplished entrepreneur. In addition to encouraging students to learn code in order to pursue lucrative careers in the field, Saddington emphasized the need for young people to embrace courageously their authentic selves while pursing their educational goals.

John Saddington shares his inspiring story.

John Saddington shares his inspiring story. Photo Credit: Open Book Studios

But it wasn’t just about the kids…it was also about their parents. In a blog post about the Youth Code Jam, A Better Future for Our Children, Saddington wrote: “For some adults this is the first time they are really able to see their kids passion on display and also how big the community is around building software.”

His thoughts were echoed by the parents, “My favorite part of the event?” said one parent, “Just spending time with my daughter to discover her interests.” By the end of the day, all but three parents (who filled out our survey) walked out feeling better equipped to help their children pursue more technology education…which is phenomenal given that it was the first time more than half of the students who attended had participated in a coding activity.

Parents sit side by side with their kids to learn together.

Parents sit side by side with their kids to learn together. Photo credit: Open Book Studios

Parents may not see the progression from playing a video game to creating one to having a career in technology. When we get the parents involved, elbow to elbow with their kids, something really magical happens.

The event has caught the eye of other cities, as well. “We’ve had inquiries from across Texas. Dallas launched its first Youth Code Jam, presented by the University of Texas at Dallas K-12 Initiative, on the same day as the San Antonio event.

Individuals interested in attending or sponsoring next year’s Code Jam should visit www.sacodejam.org to learn more, or sign up for the Code Jam email list to get notified when registration opens.

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Pamela Price and Debi Pfitzenmaier

Author and journalist Pamela Price is the mom of a boy who has attended San Antonio Youth Code Jam three years straight. His goal is to volunteer as a mentor next year. Debi Pfitzenmaier is the co-founder of San Antonio Youth Code Jam, along with her son, Aaron. She is a public relations consultant in private practice.

View all posts by Pamela Price and Debi Pfitzenmaier

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