The Peninsula School District has teamed up with West Sound Technical Skills for a summer school elective program. The three week program, held at Gig Harbor High School, runs through July 25 and offers a variety of courses that count as high school credit. Taking credits during the summer allows students greater elective flexibility during the school year. Among the classes offered are 2D Video Game Design, Sports Medicine, and Environmental Science.
The classes are all day, which allows the students to concentrate on one subject instead of being pulled in several different directions throughout the day. Wayne Lackman, principal of the summer school program, attributes much of the program’s success to its specific focus.
“It’s a chance for kids to really get involved,” Lackman said. “They’re keeping their focus, and they can get going. Being able to focus on one area is huge. Studies have shown that at-risk kids—it’s the transitions that disrupt them.”
13-year-old student Montana Poindexter, a student in the video game design course, agreed with Lackman’s assesment of the program.
“It’s nice to have one thing to focus on,” Poindexter said. “We’re able to cover a lot of things in only three weeks.”
17-year-old student Steven Fischer, also in the video game design class, said he’s enjoyed the class so far.
“I absolutely love it, it’s a lot of fun,” Fischer said. “I’ve been learning different techniques I would have never thought of.”
The video game programming class is taught by several college students from DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Wash. John Hughes, a college junior and instructor for the “Project Fun” program, said the class offers a non-conventional avenue for learning for kids who might not be drawn to a standard curriculum.
“The kids have enjoyed it,” Hughes said. “It’s kids that actually want to be learning the stuff, and are really interested in programming or creating video games. It’s tough, and it’s hard work, but the kids are having fun.”
Students in the video game design class learn how to use “C++,” a computer programming language widely used by amateurs and professionals alike for software development and video game design. The class offers students a valuable opportunity to learn how to write code, a useful skill in a technology-driven world.
Because of standardized testing, teachers are often forced to teach to a specific curriculum, but the district is looking into non-traditional course offerings during the school year to keep students engaged. Traditional course offerings don’t always appeal to all students, and some students are stuck on the outside looking in. Rather than force students to conform to a curriculum, the school hopes it can pique students’ interests with interesting electives that will encourage students to attain job skills, even if they don’t attend college.
“How are we going to focus on getting he kids prepared for the future?” Lackman said. “Not everyone is going to go to college, and not everyone needs to, but everyone needs some kind of training. If we hook their imagination, everything else makes sense. They get excited. Part of the goal of the program is to get these types of classes during the school year, and keep these kids engaged.”
In a mere two weeks, Poindexter and Fischer are close to completing original video games.
“I’m currently working on one,” Poindexter said. “It’s a space shooter—kind of like ‘Asteroids’ (the hugely popular Atari arcade game).”
“My game is kind of like ‘Breakout’ (another Atari offering),” Fischer said. “It’s called ‘Bricks.’ It’s halfway done, I just need to do some little things.”