TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Rather than sitting at home and playing video games, 15 students who just completed third- through fifth-grades are learning about coding and robotics as part of the Topeka Public Schools Summer Enrichment Program.

The classes are being held at the Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers at 500 S.W. Tuffy Kellogg Drive, on the east side of Hummer Sports Park.

Ryleigh Atkinson, 19, a 2021 Topeka High School graduate and sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, is serving as a teaching and learning communications intern at the class.

Atkinson says the students are getting invaluable training in the class, where they’re learning the basics of coding and applying those skills to programming robots, inventing, solving problems, and playing educational games in a group setting.

“The goal of this class is to give the students some real exposure into coding, because there’s a computer engineering class here at TCALC,” Atkinson said. “So if we start the exposure earlier, then they’re more prepared when they get here and it just helps create a pathway to a potential engineering or computer science coding career.”

Atkinson says the class, which meets from 8 a.m. to noon weekdays, introduces students to technology and how they can more effectively use it, both in the classroom and in their everyday lives.

“I think technology’s becoming a big part in our lives every day, and it’s also growing in schools,” she said. “They’re using more and more technology, and I think it’s really important that they understand what’s behind that. Like you’re not just using an iPad — you need to know what goes into that.”

Atkinson says she’s amazed by the amount of technology available to students in the Topeka Public Schools.

“I honestly didn’t know that we had so much of this implemented into our schools, because I came through elementary school such a long time ago,” Atkinson said. “And now that we have so much of it, even just learning how much equipment that we have, it’s insane, because I didn’t know all these kids could be exposed to all of this. Like it’s just crazy to me.”

Diondra Young, 10, who will be a sixth-grader this fall at French Middle School, says she hopes this class is just the beginning of her work in coding and robotics.

“I hope I can continue this in French, because I really enjoy doing robotics. It’s really a benefit for me.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math workforce is growing rapidly in the United States, but black and Hispanic workers continue to be under-represented.

Topeka Public Schools officials say the district provides students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds with access to STEM-focused education and career pathways.

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