Students and teachers at Pond Cove Elementary School take part in Coder Express, which focuses on computers and technology. Courtesy / Thomas Charltray

CAPE ELIZABETH — A computer education program normally conducted in person at Pond Cove Elementary School was a virtual success, thanks to the efforts of the kids involved.

Thomas Charltray, the school’s technology coordinator, credited the school’s group of extracurricular computer and electronics students, which he calls the E-Team, with organizing everything Dec. 9.

“I could not believe the dedication,” he said.

Now in its seventh year, the annual extracurricular event features a night of classes ranging from basic keyboarding for kindergartners to coding exercises for the school’s fourth-graders. Charltray said it also features “unplugged” activities, where kids write out a computer “program” for a simple task, such as stacking plastic cups, then implement it.

Charltray said 250 students signed up for the virtual event this year, called Coder Express, named for the popular children’s book.

This year, however, Charltray thought the event was not going to happen, with most of the work taking place in a classroom and social distancing. When he tried to tell the kids that, they wouldn’t accept it.

“I was really sad, because I really liked it last year,” said Cecilia Burch, a fourth-grader at the school and part of the E-Team.

Ryan Green, 9, another fourth-grader and E-Team member, said when he heard it might be canceled he also insisted on helping to make it happen virtually.

“We wanted to keep going with it,” he said.

Burch, Green and their fellow E-Teamers got to work, organizing Zoom calls and downloading ideas for projects from code.org, a website and nonprofit dedicated to promoting computer science education worldwide. The team came up with goody bags and Charltray managed to secure $900 from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation to help pay for them. Each reusable bag contained instructions, materials for the unplugged events – even a cookie and a packet of powdered hot chocolate in keeping with the spirit of the event.

Max Tullman, a fourth grader at Pond Cove Elementary School, lies among the goody bags distributed as part of the Coder Express computer science education program. Courtesy / Thomas Charltray

Kirsten O’Brien, a spokesperson for code.org, said studies show educating students in computer science leads to building other skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving.

“Learning computer science also equips students to excel in other subjects,” she said.

O’Brien said there is evidence to show interest in computer science is growing nationwide. Data from College Board, the organization that oversees testing programs such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), shows that in 2020 alone, the number of advanced placement tests in computer science taken by high school students has gone up 13%.

Regarding interest in computer science overall, O’Brien said, “We are seeing a real measured increase.”

Burch said she loved connecting with her friends online and seeing everyone participating in activities through the event.

“It was cool to see the kids all come in and show us what they’ve done,” she said.

Burch’s mother, Renee, said she was just as touched as Charltray was when the kids took the initiative to put on the event.

“It does make me proud that Ceci put her hand up and said, ‘Let’s do this,'” she said.

Jenny Green, Ryan’s mother, praised the kids’ creativity and problem-solving skills.

“To be able to think outside the box, as a parent, it was great to see the kids do that,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

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