U.S. Jones coding program earns CLAS Banner School distinction

U.S. Jones Elementary School now is recognized as ranking among the leaders in Alabama education.

The school has been named a CLAS Banner School by the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools. Through a rigorous application process, USJ was one of 24 schools out of 107 applicants to receive the honor.  Three schools from each district were named. The other two from District 5 are Pike County High School and Booker T. Washington High School in Macon County.

“We’re out there as one of the leading schools in this age group,” said Leon Clark,principal. The program USJ submitted began as a desire to have students understand technology and give them a chance to become creators instead of consumers, said Amelia Mackey, the teacher who spearheaded the project.

It first was offered to extended day students, but seeing how quickly they caught on, administrators wanted to offer all USJ students the opportunity to learn coding.

Mackey attended a workshop in the summer of 2016 to be trained to code using robots and STEM activities.

With grant support from the Demopolis City Schools Foundation, USJ began a weekly Coding and Robotics class for all its students.

With further DCSF funding in January 2017, USJ was able to purchase ministries for fifth grade students.

“We could not be where we are without our school Foundation,” said Clark.

“It did not take long to see that our students were very motivated and catching on quickly and that there was a need to have a more scaffold program,” said Mackey.

At first the coding curriculum was the same for all grades. It now employs a model with fourth and fifth graders building on what they have learned.

“The atmosphere has changed for all of our students,” Mackey continued. “There is no pressure to perform or memorize a lot of information. This is a learning experience where the students are excited, motivated and eager to try new things.”

Mackey added that other results have been seen.

“Sensory learning, improved socialization, hands-on innovations and the level of rigor have all increased due to the introduction of the curriculum.”

On Feb. 26 the school will be making a presentation before educators using a one-minute video of the school and its project. USJ students will do the filming and provide the narration, said Clark. But the video also will highlight other activities, he said.

“We’ll be showing off all the good things going on.”