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First in a series.
Kenwood Elementary principal Trevor Nadrozny loves to relate a story that cuts to the essence of what his Champaign school is accomplishing these days.
A parent of a Kenwood third-grader had taken the student along with her 12th-grade son on a college visit to Bradley. Sitting among a group of other prospective college students, they were asked by a professor if anyone in the crowd had done any computer programming yet.
None of the seniors raised their hands. But one third-grader from Champaign – who had been immersed in Kenwood’s emphasis on coding since she was in kindergarten – raised her hand.
“And they’re like, ‘What?!’” Nadrozny said. “She’s sharing all the terminology and they’re like, ‘What school do you go to?’ This parent was just ecstatic that her daughter was getting this experience and was outshining her 12th-grade brother.
“I thought that spoke volumes about what we’re doing.”
What makes Kenwood unique among Unit 4 schools is its focus on computer science and coding. And, yes, it begins at its most basic level in kindergarten.
“There are a lot of middle schools and high schools that are focused on bringing coding into the classroom, but there’s not a lot of elementary schools that take it to the degree that we are,” Nadrozny said. “A lot of schools take part in Hour of Code, a national thing and they do it for a week. We have committed to doing at least 40 minutes every week.
“The kids really, really enjoy that. There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on. Instead of asking the teacher, they try to problem-solve a little bit and they really persist in the problem-solving and work with their classmate. We use that in other subject areas as well. We really try to encourage a collaborative framework. That’s a skill that a lot of industry are looking for: People who can problem-solve and teamwork, all of that stuff.”
Nadrozny said the focus on computer science and coding is a “grass-roots” effort from his teachers, who impress him with their innovation and “willingness to do what they need to do to meet the needs of their students.” Coding is integrated into the math curriculum as well, with future goals to incorporate it in other subjects.
Nadrozny is entering his third full year at Kenwood. He was Unit 4’s director of curriculum when the previous Kenwood principal left abruptly, and superintendent Judy Wiegand asked Nadrozny – who had spent 11 years as a principal at Westview – to take over late in the school year.
He liked the Kenwood environment so much he asked Wiegand if he could stay.
“I chose it because I was so impressed,” Nadrozny said. “I know it’s probably a cliché and a lot of schools probably say this, but there’s a real family atmosphere here amongst teachers and parents.”
Nadrozny said Kenwood teachers feel an “ownership in the learning process and it’s very much teacher-led in a lot of ways. I think teachers genuinely appreciate that approach. They feel like their (professional development) is really worthwhile.”
The benefit for students is easily discerned. A common refrain is that computer science skills – along with the ability to work collaboratively – are vital in a 21st century workplace.
“I think parents who see the value of digital citizenship and coding see this as a skill that’s going to be really important for my kids in the future,” Nadrozny said. “They’ve really taken to it.”
Do you know a Champaign-Urbana school that we should spotlight? Who is it, and what makes that school unique? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.