SUGAR GROVE – Three recent Kaneland High School graduates enjoyed a round of applause Monday night as they shared the story of their gold medal-winning performance with those assembled at John Shields Elementary School for the District 302 board meeting.
The three – Stephen McCracken, Marshall Farthing and Nicholas Messina – were representing the Fox Valley Career Center, along with instructor Rick Burchell. They won a gold medal at the National Skills USA competition for the work they did in providing after-school and summer computer science workshops to students at Kaneland Harter Middle School and – later – a school district in Eminence, Mo.
The idea was to “provide hands-on opportunities in computer science, in partnership with business and other donors, to under-serviced students in rural communities.” McCracken, Farthing and Messina worked with a fourth member of the team, Jack Grimes. Information about the project can be found at www.csafterschool.com. Among the highlights was a Google RISE Award, one of only 30 issued worldwide.
“It’s not every day we welcome national champions in this room,” said Cheryl Krauspe, the school board’s president.
Farthing said the project became much more than he could have imagined. He said that at first, he thought it was something that might look good on a college application.
“It turned more intense and action-oriented,” he said. “It went from something on a resume to something we worked on every day.”
In the project, the students presented workshops to middle school students in Kaneland before heading to Missouri. They said when they went to Missouri, they had a workshop that was to last an hour and instead went significantly beyond that.
“We could not get them out of the door, honestly,” McCracken said.
They felt as if they were making a difference. They helped kids learn through hands-on activities. In one class, students would develop at least one Android mobile device application. In another, they learned to disassemble and reassemble a computer from scratch. Messina said a highlight was one student in Missouri who went into the program knowing nothing about computer science. After the program, that student said it was the path he wanted to pursue.
“It was an amazing experience, that’s for sure,” Messina said of the entire project.
The story doesn’t end there. Messina, who will attend Waubonsee Community College, will be teaching after-school workshops starting in October at Kaneland Harter Middle School. The program will be offered through the Sugar Grove Park District.