Throughout the 2019–2020 school year, our We Are DOE series will highlight some of the everyday heroes of NYC’s public schools. Featuring a cross-section of the DOE’s 140,000+ employees across the five boroughs, We Are DOE showcases some of the many unsung heroes who help keep the largest school system in the country running daily.

Today, we’re back at M.S. 217 in Queens to meet a pair of middle schoolers who have transformed into enthusiastic computer scientists thanks to the City’s Computer Science for All initiative. Please welcome M.S. 217 seventh graders, Isabella and Chase.

Ross Berman working alongside one of his students in front of a laptop

Isabella (right) was introduced to computer science earlier this year by her teacher, Ross Berman (left). “My dad’s a civil engineer who designs things on his computer. I can imagine myself doing something like that,” says Isabella.

“Honestly, I had no idea what computer science was even about. Is it doing science experiments on computers?” says Isabella Ramirez, a seventh grader at M.S. 217, Robert A. Van Wyck in Jamaica, Queens.

Her classmate, Chase Noel, wasn’t sure if he wanted to sign up for the school’s new computer science program taught by Ross Berman because it meets at 7:30 in the morning two days a week. He says, “At first, I didn’t want to come to school 30 minutes earlier than I usually would. But then when I learned that we would be working with computers to do coding, creating apps, and projects like that, I got interested.”

A month into the 12-year olds’ first computer science class, both Isabella and Chase say they are hooked. For their first assignment, they were asked to design an app that would help teachers do their jobs better. They surveyed teachers and found that they were most interested in an app that would help them remember students’ names.

Then the students formed teams to develop their apps. Isabella recalls, “We first had to design logos, and just about every group did something that looked like a brain. Everyone had the idea that their apps would help teachers concentrate.” Different strategies for apps included games that aid name memorization and programs for proper pronunciation of students’ names. Chase says, “We also had to create login prompts and home pages that would be easy for teachers to use. There was a lot to think about.”

“At first, I didn’t want to come to school 30 minutes earlier than I usually would. But then when I learned that we would be working with computers to do coding, creating apps, and projects like that, I got interested.”

-Chase Noel, M.S. 217 student

One aspect of computer science that Isabella and Chase especially enjoy is working with classmates on their projects. “In most of my other classes, you’re very independent and don’t really work with other students most of the time,” says Chase. “But in this class, you’re almost always doing projects with somebody else. I like that because you can split up pieces of the work to do and then come back and fit them with each other.” Even from home, students can work together “on the cloud” through their Google Drive accounts.

Although they are just 12 years old, both students think they may pursue careers that involve computer science. Isabella says, “My dad’s a civil engineer who designs things on his computer. I can imagine myself doing something like that.”

As for Chase: “I’m interested in being a game programmer. That’s part of the reason why I signed up for this class: to help me learn how to do my job.” Later this school year, Chase will have a chance to show his stuff in the school’s computer game design contest.

CS Teacher, Ross Berman, leaning down to help a pair of CS students

Chase, (bottom right) views his CS classes at M.S. 217 as training for what he hopes will be his eventual career in game programming.

We thank Isabella and Chase for allowing us to learn about their experiences this year as newly-minted CS students at M.S. 217.  By 2025, all NYC students will have access to these kinds of learning experiences thanks to Computer Science for All.

Together, We Are DOE.

The Morning Bell

Official blog for the NYC Department of Education, home of over 1.1 million students across 1,800+ schools

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NYC Department of Education, 2019