Local teacher takes home prize from One Spark festival

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When Lauren Wade called for a sub last week at Ocean Palms Elementary School (OPES), she wasn’t sick or taking vacation. Instead, the teacher turned entrepreneur was competing in the One Spark idea festival, where she ultimately took home one of the top prizes.

A science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) teacher at OPES, Wade competed in the festival’s Spark Tank competition at EverBank Field on Thursday, April 5, placing third out of seven contestants and receiving a $5,000 monetary reward. The local teacher presented her Kids Can Code company which introduces computer programming skills to kids to a group of investors, advisors and entrepreneurs, discussing the company’s business model, financial projections, market opportunity and more. The overall One Spark event allows entrepreneurs to seek feedback and interest in their business concepts.

“It was definitely nerve-racking,” said Wade, who was also a finalist for the St. Johns County School District Teacher of the Year award in 2017. "[However] I have a lot of passion and confidence in what I’m doing. I believe in my product and what I’m doing for the community.”

Kids Can Code, explained Wade, comprises of after-school clubs and spring and summer break camps that enable kids from around the First Coast to build computers, code robots and design video games, among other activities. In addition to receiving her reward for the initiative, Wade said she also developed relationships at One Spark with mentors in the business community who can help her further refine her business plan.

“Even if I didn’t win, the connections I made are invaluable,” she said.

Wade’s interest in coding took off four years ago when she learned about the Hour of Code, an annual initiative organized by nonprofit organization Code.org to encourage kids to learn about computer science. She led OPES in completing the activity, and the interest level from kids, she said, skyrocketed. From there, Wade formed an after-school coding club, and the program has blossomed so greatly that just last year, she formed an LLC.

Wade’s efforts are paying off in other arenas as well. Her team of students placed fifth in last year’s online Wonder League Robotics Competition. This year, six of her teams have advanced to the same competition’s invitational round, out of 7,000 participants.

The Kids Can Code summer camps, which enroll about 20 kids per week, kick off June 4 at the Palm Valley Community Center. Eight weeks of camp will be offered throughout the summer, said Wade, with costs starting at $300 and varying per camp. (Some camps are more expensive because they allow kids to keep robots or laptops that they build.) Sibling discounts are available. Visit https://www.kidscancodejax.com/ for more information.

“What I’m teaching — coding, robotics and programming — is preparing them [the kids] for jobs that aren’t even invented yet,” said Wade. “They need to get into coding as much as they can.”

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