Loey Knapp, executive director of Coding for Kids, was eager to share the program’s successes with the Stevensville school board. She made a presentation to the board at its December meeting.
First, she pointed out that the valley is changing. High-tech businesses are beginning to locate here and they need workers who are knowledgeable and skilled in computer technology.
She said there is a firm in the area that specializes in night vision technology, there’s a biotech lab going in near the Daly Mansion, the Pharoahplex Theater has been repurposed as a film studio, and many others. More are coming.
Coding for Kids started four years ago. The non-profit offers classes for kids in grades 1-12 from throughout the Bitterroot, providing experiential, hands-on, and fun classes that incorporate computer technology, with a focus on problem-solving, such as building drones and robots, making films, GIS mapping, etc. The class fee is $125, but Knapp says every child who wants to participate can. About 35% of the students receive scholarships to attend.
Knapp said they are able to do that because of the many grants and private donations the program receives. They have received grants from the Rapp Family Foundation, the Heman Foundation, and the Greater Ravalli Foundation, among others. In addition to Knapp, other Coding for Kids board members are Greg Trangmoe, Scott Seibert and Stephanie Esch.
Another goal is to get more females interested in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM (STEM with the addition of art). Knapp said when she was working at IBM, the national average for women in technology fields was 25% but that it has since dropped to 17%.
Four years ago, the program started with classes in robotics and beginning programming for grades 3-5. Soon they added classes for grades 6-8. Then Covid hit, temporarily putting an end to in-person classes. However, that “down time” allowed Coding for Kids to focus on grant writing. With grants from the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, the Rapp Family Foundation and the Heman Foundation, they’ve received enough financial support to operate the program for three years. That has helped jump start the addition of classes for high school ages.
Knapp said it also became apparent that third grade is too late to start these kinds of classes; kids need to get involved at age 6 and 7. So classes for the younger age group were added. Last summer they held 14 week-long classes. Six classes were held this fall, and nine classes will be held in the spring. To date they have filled over 400 seats.
Coding for Kids holds classes at the Stevensville School, where they are able to use the resources at times when they aren’t being used by the general school population.
Knapp praised the Stevensville School District for allowing the use of the facility for the Coding for Kids program. “This is all possible because of a partnership with the school. The school provides the infrastructure and helps get the information out. It’s an attractive addition to the school.”
Knapp gave a couple of examples of students who have benefitted from the classes. She said one 8th grader took a class, starting out feeling very insecure. “Now she’s taken five classes and is helping design some new classes. She’s found her niche.”
She said another young man who graduated took four of the Coding for Kids classes. Now he’s ready for an internship at Skyfish, a local drone manufacturer.
She said that this is impacting kids in a very good way. She said Skyfish, ATG, L&G Security and Cimarron Studios are local tech partners that offer internships.
She said she is also in contact with a foundation that is considering providing computers to the school.
“This is a great partnership,” said Knapp. “The sky is the limit. The Washington Foundation has made it clear that they’re wanting us to create a model to be used in other communities.”
Knapp said that Coding for Kids “has found an amazing collection of teachers and other professionals to work with us.” Some collaborators include Scott Seibert, a Stevensville high school teacher and Coding for Kids board member, Kay Ownbey, a local scriptwriter who has written a series being considered by Netflix; Jamie Robertson, a cartographer; Christian Ackerman with Fast Coast Productions; Jaylene Naylor, a drone pilot with the UM drone program, and artists Jonathan Burns and Lisa Decker.
Stephanie Esch, a school board member who is also on the Coding for Kids board, said, “Loey and Greg have really built this. We are seeing the kids using essentially a language they haven’t used before. This program is now gaining enough notice that people are gravitating towards it with grants.”
“This is extending learning opportunities and exposure to STEM and STEAM,” said Dr. Bob Moore, Stevensville superintendent. “We’re happy to be a partner and provide resources that aren’t being used.”
“Our approach is to help kids understand the fundamentals of computer technology,” said Knapp, “so they can begin creating… that mindset is going to be critical.”
More information can be found at codingstevensville.net.