Crestview students code for cash

PHOTOS BY SHELBY WOLFE/Newport News Times | AJ Abele, a student of Melaia Kilduff’s third and fourth grade class at Crestview Elementary, works on an exercise while learning about coding on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

WALDPORT — Thanks to some hard work and their teacher’s ingenuity, a third and fourth grade class at Crestview Elementary has a pack of brand new headphones coming their way.

This year, Principal Libba Sager wrote a funding request, which was filled by an anonymous donor and made it possible for all third through sixth grade classes to have one-to-one technology.

“I got so excited that the day after they were delivered, I put everyone on a computer at the same time and the cacophony was overwhelming,” said Melaia Kilduff, a third and fourth grade teacher. “Suddenly, we needed headphones.”

Kilduff had a few earbuds left over from the last donation they had received, but she knew they needed a better solution — and a more durable one, to boot. So, on Dec.1, she put a request out on donorschoose.com — a website started by a history teacher in 2000, to help connect teachers who need funding for supplies with individual donors around the world. But she wasn’t going to rely on that alone to accomplish her mission.

“The next day I shared it with the classroom community and explained we would be earning the money for the headphones,” said Kilduff. “We earned $200 from Google CS for learning code and internet safety.”

Kilduff said that when the students saw that they had earned that $200, “they were amazed that a big company like Google would ‘pay’ them to learn about computers. They were fascinated.”

The remaining money, nearly $400, was raised in just over two weeks from donors around the country. Some were local; others used to live in the area — but some were just good Samaritans from Washington, Florida and Texas, looking to help a school teacher in need.

“I gave to this project because all students need access to high quality literature that is on their level, and to support teachers working in high poverty schools,” commented a donor from Seattle.

“I used to be a teacher, and I know how important it is to give kids the right tools to learn,” wrote another donor from Washington.

Kilduff was overwhelmed and humbled by the response, a reaction that was mirrored by her students.

“For my students to know that the headphones were coming was exciting, but the room got quiet when they saw the list of names of people they didn't know, who believed in them enough to give money,” said Kilduff.

The students’ excitement came from a very honest place, as that equipment can make a big difference for children who have experienced trauma.

Impacting and improving lives

“Children who experience trauma in early childhood are often hesitant to trust adults, unable to accept caring support and are frequently unable to regulate their emotions,” said Kilduff. “This can cause many roadblocks to learning … If a child who has experienced trauma doesn't feel emotionally safe in an environment, they will be in constant fight-or-flight, which stops the learning process.”

Part of Kilduff’s job as an educator is not just to teach her students, but to help them learn. That includes providing them with methods that best suit their learning style, as well as creating a physically and emotionally safe environment for the children.

“When a student knows what to expect, it contributes to their emotional safety,” said Kilduff. “If they know they will need a computer and they know there's a limited number — they might not get one — their instinct is to fight to get one or concede to not having one. Having 1-to-1 technology ensures that every child knows they will have that tool … The aggressive behaviors around technology shortage has decreased.”

In addition, having headphones for all students allows a quiet work environment for those who need it and an immersive work environment for others. Especially for students who are on constant alert, this can make an immense difference.

Moving forward, the students of Kilduff’s class will be continuing to learn code which, Kilduff reports, they are all enjoying.

“We started with Hour of Code on code.org last week. I was amazed at how quickly the students picked it up and their response was so enthusiastic,” said Kilduff. “It requires problem solving, planning and perseverance; all 21st century skills that students need to learn to be successful.”

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PHOTOS BY SHELBY WOLFE/Newport News Times | AJ Abele, a student of Melaia Kilduff’s third and fourth grade class at Crestview Elementary, works on an exercise while learning about coding on Wednesday, Dec. 19.