As his students program spherical robots to navigate a maze made of blue tape and plastic cups, Jesus Vaca’s vision is becoming a reality.
The principal and superintendent dreams of seeing a go-kart, created and coded by students, in Somis School’s auditorium this time next year.
Beginning in August, all students at the K-8 school will learn computer science — a subject Vaca believes will benefit them in more ways than one.
“The ability for students to create and develop and innovate is tremendous. . . ” he said during an April 26 community workshop. “We are going to be on the cutting edge. We are going to be a true technology school. ”
Skill Struck, a Utah-based educational consultant company, provided Somis School with a complimentary computer science curriculum to pilot from April through June to make the next school year transition easier for students and teachers.
The school, one of the smallest districts in the county, will also partner with the Ventura County Office of Education to offer second- through eighth-grade students a weeklong coding camp in the summer.
To keep students engaged, it is necessary to continuously update instructional methods, Vaca said.
By learning computer science, he said, students will gain skills that will be valuable in all subjects, such as problem-solving and critical thinking, perseverance and creativity.
“My intent is, what can I do for kids to prepare them not just for their high school but for life in general,” he said. “The sky is the limit.”
Computer science jobs will increase by more than 20% by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ramón Flores is the STEM outreach coordinator for the Port Hueneme division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
The rate at which engineers are retiring, he said, has prompted the Navy to focus on recruitment.
About a year ago, Flores — also a board member for the county office of education — approached Vaca about introducing computer science to Somis School students.
The two men agree that to succeed in the field one must be both academically prepared and inspired.
“To me, if you’re going to start with something new, it has to start with (kindergarten) through eight,” Vaca said. “And kids have to buy in.”
Seeing students smile as they maneuver the robot Flores provided, Cow is confident they have already bought in.
“We’ve learned that students can’t be what they can’t see,” Flores said. “Women are underrepresented. Hispanics are underrepresented. Black people are underrepresented. ”
Roughly 70% of Somis School students are Latino, and nearly one-third are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, Vaca said.
By introducing the computer science curriculum, Flores and Vaca said, they are also introducing students to the possibility of high-paying careers.
“For a lot of these families, especially in the Somis area and the school district, that is an unknown. They don’t understand what a six-figure salary is, ”Flores said. “To be able to put them on a path where they can achieve that as a 12-year-old in 10 years is life-changing.”
Parents and families said they are grateful Somis School is providing the opportunity for the children to gain hands-on experience in STEM.
Lana Hijaz said she is proud of her son, fifth-grader Maher Esalieh, for embracing coding over the past few months; his enthusiasm for coding gives her hope for his future.
“(Computer science) is going to expand their education and their knowledge. It’s going to help them in their careers and in school, ”Hijaz said. “I feel it’s really important that this gets introduced to them early on.”
Surprised at how unintimidating working with the robots has been, Maher said he encourages his friends to simply try their best at something new.
“I enjoy coding because one day it’s going to be part of the future,” he said. “It’s better to learn now so you know what to use and how to use it when you’re older.”
Isabella Cuevas-Gonzalez is a member of Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit that aims to increase the number of women in computer science. The fifth-grader said she joined because she is interested in pursuing a career in coding.
Weekly workshops after school allow her to code games alongside friends and to break barriers.
“I think it’s good that they’re trying to get more girls to do coding so that it’s not labeled as a man’s job,” said Isabella, who demonstrated her work to families during the event.
She is excited that all of her peers will soon learn what she loves.
Somis Union’s computer science program will one day be replicated by other districts, Vaca said.
“We are going to be able to serve as an example for other schools,” he said. “We’re out to change the structure not just in Ventura but statewide.”
To learn more about Somis Union School District, go to somisusd.org.