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Cocoa, cupcakes and coding highlight Thomas Jefferson's 'Hour of Code'

| Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, 3:54 p.m.
From left, sophomores Marisa Deanovich, Julia Petrovich and Alaina Mulvihill participate in Thomas Jefferson High School's Hour of Code event on Dec. 5, 2017.
Carrie Lekse | West Jefferson Hills School District
From left, sophomores Marisa Deanovich, Julia Petrovich and Alaina Mulvihill participate in Thomas Jefferson High School's Hour of Code event on Dec. 5, 2017.

Organizers of Thomas Jefferson High School's first Hour of Code program really didn't have to bribe students with cocoa and cupcakes, coffee and swag to get them to participate.

The 170 students — freshmen to seniors — took part in the hour-long event Dec. 5 to learn the basics of computer science.

Plus, as sophomore Ashley Guidone said, it looked interesting.

“I thought it would be fun,” Guidone said. “And I hope to learn some coding.”

The Hour of Code, a national program started four years ago by two computer science students, takes place each year during Computer Science Week — held this year Dec. 4 through Dec. 10. The goal of the program is to encourage more students to take computer classes, such as basic Python — a widely used language for general computer programming.

To participate in the Hour of Code, Thomas Jefferson students were placed in the school's three computer labs, where they were able to use geometry, for example, to instruct a turtle to draw a snowflake. Another more challenging program had students program the turtle to draw flags from different countries from around the world.

The goal is not to teach a student to become a computer scientist in an hour. Instead, the aim is to show computer science can be creative, fun, and accessible to all students, organizers said. And perhaps, as an added bonus, get students to start thinking about computer science as a possible career.

Thomas Jefferson juniors Carissa Budday and Megan Boyle said they decided to participate in the after-school event after their teacher showed them computer coding and language.

“It got me interested,” Boyle said.

Wendy Matta, a science teacher, along with Melissa Sosanko, a mathematics teacher, organized Thomas Jefferson's Hour of Code.

Matta said they decided to hold the program after talking with Ritwik Gupta, a 2014 Thomas Jefferson graduate who is now a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. Gupta said he wanted to be part of the event as well.

“Computer science is important and needs to keep moving forward,” said Gupta, who demonstrated some of his new apps for the iPad that allows users to estimate their stress level and heart rate using the device's camera. He also handed out T-shirts from CMU's computer science school.

“It's machine-learning research,” he explained.

Students who participated were asked to donate $1, which went toward paying for the cupcakes, cocoa and Starbucks coffee. Prizes, such as Amazon gift cards and mugs, also were awarded throughout the event.

“We wanted to make this fun and approachable,” Matta said.

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at or 412-871-2346.

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