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Programming Fundamentals class teaching coding to students in Lafayette County

Oxford-Lafayette School of Applied Technology, or “The Tech” for short, had a successful first semester, thanks to the addition of its Programming Fundamentals course.

Programming Fundamentals is a  two-year course that teaches students computer programming and coding skills.

Bethany Lucas, the program’s instructor, says there are 22 students enrolled in the course currently, but the program is growing quickly and can accommodate as many as 60.

“I’ve been really impressed with how adaptive the district is to integrating new technologies,” Lucas said. “The kids are so interested that I can get them here after school.”

Lucas also said the school and program are changing people’s ideas about vocational and technical schools.

“There’s this old school of thought that [vocational schools] used to be for the kids who weren’t going to college, just a trade school,” she said. “We still try to implement some of that here, but we’re also here for the kids who are planning to go to college or some other kind of post-secondary option.”

In today’s information age, many students enter the class with self-taught coding skills.

Jake Helmert, a senior at Lafayette County High School, says the prior knowledge he had going into this class has helped this year.

“Coding is essentially how you make computers do what you want them to do,” Helmert said.

One of his big projects involved creating a raspberry pie server, which is a computer that is the same size as a credit card.

Another goal of the program is to aid students in finding jobs after they complete their education. For those who decide to attend college, projected lifetime earnings for a computer science major are $1.67 million, 40 percent higher than the collegiate average. Similar programs in Water Valley and Clarksdale have reported high job placement rates for their students, as well.

A recent surge in the number of women in STEM fields is also reflected in the three girls enrolled in the course. Taylor Jackson-Lockhart, a junior at Lafayette County High School, says the course is a way to educate herself about new technologies and software programs.

“I’m not looking to go into computer science when I get to college. I want to study exercise science,” Jackson-Lockhart said. “But this class has helped me learn more about how coding and programming works, and it’ll help me be more well-rounded.”

Lucas says one of her main objectives moving forward with the course is to expose the students to more technologies and experiences, because they are eager to learn. Lucas’ class was recently awarded a robotics grant, and they are looking to branch into the world of virtual reality eventually.

“I’ve got students who’ve already started programming games, and that’s not from this course,” she said. “They knew this before they got here. The kids are interested, they just need some exposure.”

For more information on the Programming Fundamentals Course, visit their website at https://www.thetechms.org.