When I finish writing the statement, that cat will move,” promises Deshaunte’ Goldsmith, a sixth-grader at Digital Pioneers Academy Public Charter School. She presses enter on the keyboard and, sure enough, the animated cat on her screen begins to pace back and forth.
Goldsmith is a member of the founding class at the school knows as DPA, Washington, D.C.’s first computer science-focused middle school. Opened in August, the school is small, serving about 120 sixth-grade students across four classes but has plans to build out to 12th grade. Every day, students take computer science as a part of their core curriculum.
Today, in computers science, Goldsmith is learning how to write conditional statements — such as if the space bar is pressed, the cat will jump — using MIT’s animation-based platform Scratch. First, the students have to identify conditional statements, and then they have to write their own. At the end of class, they have to find and correct the error intentionally planted in the teacher’s code.
“The error’s in the third line of code,” Goldsmith says. “It’s missing part of the conditional statement.”
DPA occupies the second floor of Washington Heights Baptist Church in the Hillcrest neighborhood of the city’s seventh ward. Ninety-eight percent of the students come from wards seven and eight, D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods, and, because DPA’s leadership recruited heavily in the local area, two-thirds of the students went to the neighborhood elementary schools.
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