Phoenix Coding Academy To Start Classes In Fall

By Annika Cline
Published: Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 6:04pm
Updated: Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 8:51pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Phoenix Coding Academy has two 3-D printers.
(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
The school building is located next to Central High School.

The Phoenix Union High School District has two schools they call “small specialty schools.” Those are Bioscience High School and Franklin Police and Fire High School.

And now they’re adding a third: Phoenix Coding Academy. Construction finished earlier this year and the first class of students will start in the fall. 

It’s a brand new building; it cost about $12 million to construct. It sits in what used to be a parking lot for Central High School, near Indian School Road and Central Avenue, wedged between the auditorium and softball field. And in some ways, it's similar to its neighbor.

“Here we have a traditional art room,” said principal Seth Beute.

They have a library and a gym.

“This is where students will eat lunch,” Beute said, standing in the gym. “We also have the floor set up for basketball, volleyball …”

Upstairs there are classrooms with desks, chairs and printers.

“Here we have two 3D printers that are going right now,” Beute said. “We also have a milling machine, some drill press, we’ll get laser engravers.”

Each student also gets a laptop, and there’s no textbook in sight. Beute said they’re building an environment where students gain the skills they need to get tech-related jobs.

“We had a lot of input from industry partners, community members, to get an idea of what kind of students are they looking for, and what kind of skillsets are they looking for,” he said.

They’re also paying attention to what’s missing from the tech industry.

You may remember headlines from last year about the diversity problem in Silicon Valley. That’s why Phoenix Coding Academy is also recruiting with diversity in mind. 

“Ideally we would want the school to look like a microcosm of the city at large, the metro area,” Beute said. 

Right now they have seven teachers, most of them women, and 80 kids from around the Valley are enrolled in the first freshman class, with room for 120.

“I know I have students from south Phoenix, west Phoenix, East Valley,” Beute said. “I have a student coming from northwest Peoria.”

But despite a big push to attract girls, they only make up a third of the students so far.

The teachers are meeting all summer to brainstorm ideas. In one meeting, robots are casually mentioned as a project idea. Teacher George Cardenas brought it up.

“I love robots, I could talk about robots for hours,” Cardenas said. “But, I mean, I see robots as just kind of a big culmination of engineering and programming and just everything, every subject matter around.”

The staff admits that fun technology is like a carrot to dangle in front of students to engage them. But Seth Beute said these skills will have practical applications in growing fields. For example: 

“Right now Arizona’s projected number one in IT-related jobs over the next 10 years,” Beute said.

So that begs the question: why build a new school, rather than spread these resources to all schools in the district?

Craig Pletenik is with Phoenix Union High School District and said that’s actually the end goal.

“We look at this as being a laboratory for creating some coding classes and technology classes that maybe are new, and then spinning them out to the other districts,” he said.

So in the future, many other students get to print their finals on a 3D printer. 

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