Web development skills in tow, students graduate from North Omaha’s Highlander Code Camp

Nine high school students graduated Friday from the Highlander Code Camp, a six-week coding program delivered by the Omaha-based nonprofits AIM Institute and Seventy Five North. The event was held at the Highlander Accelerator, a 65,000-square-foot building and community space developed by Seventy Five North to educate, engage and enrich the historically excluded community of…

Highlander Code Camp students with representatives from AIM and Seventy Five North
Highlander Code Camp students with representatives from AIM and Seventy Five North

Nine high school students graduated Friday from the Highlander Code Camp, a six-week coding program delivered by the Omaha-based nonprofits AIM Institute and Seventy Five North. The event was held at the Highlander Accelerator, a 65,000-square-foot building and community space developed by Seventy Five North to educate, engage and enrich the historically excluded community of North Omaha.

Kashya Burrell, program coordinator for Seventy Five North, kicked off the graduation ceremony with words of congratulations and encouragement. Also speaking were AIM Institute representatives Shane Barsell and Vanessa Kasun, who served as the students’ chaperone and instructor, respectively.

“These students are so amazing,” Kasun said. “Not only are they learning a new skill, they’re learning a new skill that is very difficult. That takes a lot of time. They are the definition of hard workers.”

Highlander teaches the fundamentals of web development to students receiving free or reduced lunch and attending high school or living in North Omaha. Students learned HTML, CSS and Javascript in order to build their own websites from scratch. 

Studies have shown that programming benefits a child’s cognitive development by increasing their ability to reflect and engage in divergent thinking. Learning how to code also helps children enhance their metacognitive abilities, so that they can think about the way they think. Metacognition training has demonstrated increases in academic performance and happiness, which could set up a student for future success even if they decide not to pursue a career in programming.

In addition to coding instruction, students went on field trips to area businesses, including Hudl’s Omaha office. These visits allowed them to meet IT professionals and get a sense of what life as a coder is like.

With help from AIM, students learned to navigate the local transit system. City buses were used to travel between field trip sites and class.

At the ceremony, each student gave a brief presentation on their website, explaining why they made certain choices and how they overcame various obstacles. 

The atmosphere was convivial and informal, studded with cheers and inside jokes. At one point, an audience member asked a participant whether they felt their website was better than their school cafeteria’s website. 

“Yeah, I think so,” the student said, dryly. 

Laughter ensued.

Student websites were built on topics ranging from robots to financial literacy. The ceremony concluded with the distribution of course-completion certificates.

“This is not just a piece of paper,” Barsell said. “This is an accredited course…so put it on your resumes so employers can see it.”

“I’ve never had a group of high school students I’ve been more proud of,” Kasun said. “They are going to be the next CEOs, the next presidents of our companies.”

Highlander Code Camp is one of several AIM Institute programs geared toward strengthening and diversifying the tech community. To support AIM’s mission, readers may make a tax-deductible donation to the organization.

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