Clark Avenue students create own video games as part of new coding club

Over the past school year, the future computer coders and video game developers of the world could be found in the eighth grade computer coding club at the Clark Avenue Middle School.

During a challenging school year for many students, the eighth graders in Matthew LaBranche’s coding club at the middle school went a step beyond, learning how to code in javaScript with several of the students creating and coding their own video games.

Pictured (left to right back) Izaiah Martinez, Mr. Matthew Labranche, Jonathan Espana Lopez, Latisha Rivera, Ariana Guerrero, Hillary Zambon, Catherine Ramos, Allison Romero, Justin Aguilar Arteaga, and Kimberly Ramirez. Bottom (left to right) Emeralys Burgos, Natali Sanches, Manuel Contreras, Cory Pleitez-Castaneda, Kyson Gray Jose, and Jasmin Martinez. Missing From Photo: Juliana Arevalo, Roger Martinez Canelas, Josue Rivera Santos, Jasmine Rivera, and Josue Rivera.

One of the many impressive aspects of the club is the number of girls who took part. Of the seven students who successfully completed creating their own video games, six were girls.

LaBranche said it is a positive sign in a field and industry that is typically male dominated.

“Every business going forward will have something to do with computer science and coding,” said LaBranche. “Coding is a very important topic to discuss and a very good skill to understand.”

Among the students taking part and creating their own video games this year was Allison Romero, who was honored as a Clark Avenue Middle School Student of the Year at a recent School Committee meeting.

In her video game, Ducky AbDuckter, the player has to collect rubber duckies while avoiding flying hatchets.

“That’s a tremendous amount of code that she had to learn from day one,” said LaBranche. And it’s not only learning the code, he added, but if one line of code has an error, it’s back to the drawing board for the game.

Of course, seeing an eighth grade plow through so many rows of code and creating their own video game might draw some suspicions, but LaBranche said that wasn’t the case.

“(Allison’s) mom was suspect and thought that I helped her with the code, that’s always the thing, how much did the teacher do, and I didn’t want that,” he said. “But she had done it all herself, and that’s probably the biggest compliment you can get when someone’s suspect that you did all the code.”

The other students who successfully created games over the past year were Hillary Zambon and Catherine Ramos with Popping Bubble,  Jasmine Martinez and Kyson Jose with Asteroid Destroyer, and Ariana Guerrrero and Latisha Rivera with the Flying Kitty.

While the students end up with some pretty impressive games with multiple moving parts, sounds, and backgrounds at the end, Martinez and the other students said it all begins with learning how to code shapes and colors and building upon that.

Martinez added that outside of learning how to create a video game, coding helps across all classes due to the need for focus and commitment.

While the students are heading onto high school next year, LaBranche said he hopes to continue the coding club next year, possibly with the help of some of the students coming back to help with next year’s batch of eighth graders.

“What I want to do next year is teach Python,” LaBranche said. “Python is the most popular program in the world, so young people really should learn it if they are thinking about this as a vocation, they are guaranteed a job. It’s unbelievable how many opportunities there are. If you know that code really well, if you know it inside out, you walk right into a job.”

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