BRANDYWINE — Only a few weeks away from graduation, the culmination of all Gwynn Park High School senior Kwame Commissiong’s work came together when his teacher, Keith Brice, handed him his certificate in front of all of his fellow classmates in the Amazon Future Engineer Program.
“Ever since I actually entered the computer science program at the school I was always interested in programming. I’m glad I was able to make use of the hands on ideas.”
One of the biggest challenges of of Amazon Future Engineer Program is learning Java language, Commissiong said. He called it “petty” because it is very specific in order to get the exact output desired.
However, Commissiong also said Java, and the Future Engineer Program itself, is an “interactive and interesting program.”
“What I like about it is that it allows you to work at your own pace and there are several resources that you have access to in order to help…It’s always helpful to communicate with your team. I will happily say that it’s actually helped me in working as a team.”
Commissiong, along with 11 other graduating seniors, were honored as the first class of graduates of the Amazon Future Engineer Program from Gwynn Park, and one of the first in the nation, on May 16.
Each student was given a certificate in front of teachers and their underclassman classmates in the short ceremony that day.
“It feels great,” said Destiny Brown. “It’s been a long journey. It’s taught me a lot. Now that I’m done, it’s like I’ve gained a sense of resilience.”
The Amazon Future Engineer Program is a comprehensive childhood-to-career program which serves to inspire, educate and train children and young adults from underserved and low-income communities to pursue careers in computer science.
It consists of a K-8 program as well as a high school program. It also includes scholarships to assist students pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science and internship opportunities with Amazon.
Starting in the fall, the program will provide robotics grants to 100 schools from 21 states across the country to support underrepresented and underserved communities in partnership with FIRST, an organization that engages kindergarten through high school students in mentor-based, research and robotics programs.
Gwynn Park is one of 50 high schools in the Washington Metropolitan area participating in the Amazon Future Engineer Program, but it began as a separate three-year program that has grown exponentially over the years, according to Brice. In its first year, there were only three graduating seniors. This year there are 14 total and next year, they are expecting 32 seniors.
Next year will be the first year that the school will host a four-year program and the incoming ninth grade class had to be capped at 50 students who have already enrolled while some are on the waiting list.
The program has evolved over the years to include web development in 10th grade, AP principles in 11th grade and AP computer science A, which consists of Java programming, during senior year.
“There were multiple challenges of course,” said Jabril Isac. “The program actually lets you move at your own pace so that you will be able to learn things and not sit there and be still most of the time. But there is also people in the classroom that can help also.”
Also, this was the first year that Amazon became involved implementing its Amazon Future Engineer Program in the school. This has allowed Gwynn Park to expand their classes even more.
“Amazon joined us this year and we can’t be more excited to have them represent us with the funding for the software that we currently use and hopefully, fingers crossed, one of our students will be accepted into their scholarship program. If they get accepted for the scholarship program, they automatically get a paid internship with Amazon,” said Brice.
Now that graduation is around the corner, the students plan to utilize the skills they learned through the program throughout college and beyond such as Isac who plans to study computer sciences and cyber security. Brown will be studying at Prince George’s Community College for two years then will hopefully transfer to Towson University or another school.
Commissioning was accepted into Harrisburg University and the University of Baltimore. He said he plans to attend the latter and is interested in studying game design.
“Ever since I started playing video games, I’ve always been wondering how they work,” he said. “Now that I’ve been doing programming, I genuinely look forward to eventually working to create my own video games.”
Brice tearfully handed out the certificates to his students during the ceremony.
“One of the best and biggest successes for me personally is to see these students succeed,” Brice said. “I’ve had students in the past come back and let me know what they’re doing. Two years ago one of my three seniors said they went on to MIT and now they are interns at Facebook. Just something like that, that they went to a good school, they got a great job and the skills I gave them were able to give them that opportunity, that’s the biggest thing I can ask for.”