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Coding for Success

L-R: Makya Burnett, Philip Maddox and Jessica Childs were all smiles during their first coding competition at Stetson University. -Photo: Submitted

By Jeffry Boatright

A common concern among educators in recent years is the fact that students must prepare for jobs that do not even exist yet. Branford High School Career and Technical Education Instructor Tammy Neil has, perhaps, found the ideal formula for preparing many innovative students for a promising future. In fact, Neil encourages students to create the future through technology.

Now in her fourth year of teaching the Career and Technical Education Program, Neil has seen many changes in coding, which is simply a new term for programming. According to the veteran educator, coding involves much more than just programming language. “Coding is the problem solving portion of programming,” she explained. “We can find coding skills in all subject areas. Everywhere there is a problem to be solved, coding can be used to solve it.”
Describing the coding process, Neil stated that one begins with the end in mind. “You break down the steps into smaller and smaller pieces until you have a problem that is manageable,” she explained.” Then you solve each step along the way.”

While it is difficult to fathom the advances in tomorrow’s technology, Neil admits that much has already changed since she was introduced to coding, or programming, as a high school freshman. “In those days, we had TRS-80 computers, and there were only two colors, black or white,” she recalled. “We had cassette tape drives, or if we were lucky, the old floppy discs.”

Neil is passionate about teaching career and technical education, and she is especially passionate about the success of those students she is entrusted to teach. The innovative educator recognizes what having coding at Branford High School means to those students involved. “Our students are getting opportunities similar to students in larger school districts,” she emphasized. “Many schools in the state have not yet begun coding programs, and Branford High School has shown the world that it is not about the size of the school, but the drive of the students to learn that makes the difference. As the coding teacher, I am privileged to be leading the way with our students.”

Although this is Neil’s fourth year as a CTE instructor at BHS, it is only the second year that the school offers an official coding program, Neil explained. “We started with a game design program, but it was clear that our students wanted to do more than just program games,” she added.

Neil recognizes the advantages in coding for students as she observes them learning valuable problem solving skills. “Many students arrive in class thinking they know how to use computers, when in fact what they know is how to use a specific program or application,” she admitted. “However, they leave knowing the computer is a tool that they can control. They can create programs and apps to make the world a better place.”

L-R: Philip Maddox, Makya Burnett and Jessica Childs make it look easy as they compete in a coding competition at Stetson University in November. -Photo: Submitted

The faculty and students of BHS were ecstatic when the school’s coding club showcased its skills in competition last November. According to Neil, the team made a solid appearance against 25 other teams at Stetson University in its first formal competition. Representing Branford High’s coding club were Makya Burnett, Jessica Childs and Philip Maddox.

Not only did Burnett, Childs and Maddox comprise a great team, they are wonderful individuals who represented BHS with dignity and fervor. “Listening to them discuss coding as a true team is beautiful,” Neil wrote. “Hearing them talk about encouraging others to join them for a competition in March makes my heart swell with pride.”

While the team didn’t bring home top rankings that time, it came back with invaluable experience, and each member was awarded a scholarship worth up to eight thousand dollars. According to Neil, the top five teams at the end of the day usually have several years of experience in their favor.

The school’s coding club currently has about 24 members, ranging from sixth to twelfth grade. Competitive events, such as the one at Stetson University, allows only three members per team. Now that Branford High School’s coding club is more familiar with the format of competition, the club hopes to continue its growth with the impressive beginning of Burnett, Childs and Maddox.

Currently, the club is focused on competing in Orlando this March. Meanwhile, Neil is looking at various ways to fund the trip so Burnett, Childs and Maddox, along with others, can display their skills against some of the brightest students in our state.

Whether competing against other schools, or through their daily educational process, Neil and her students enjoy the fact that they can start with a blank page and create something extraordinary that can enhance the lives of people around the world. Perhaps that is one answer to a common concern among educators today.

L-R: Jessica Childs, Makya Burnett and Philip Maddox pause for a moment of relaxation during their November coding competition at Stetson University. -Photo: Submitted