SAN ANTONIO – Computer programming, coding and information technology are some of the most sought-after skills in today's tech-driven world.
You might think those courses are only available in college, but there's a new program in the North East Independent School District where sixth-graders are learning these skills.
It's called the Design and Technology Academy (DATA) at Ed White Middle School.
"It's really fun," said Dani Tejeda, a student in the DATA program. "We get to learn a lot about computers, animation and technology and all sorts of things like that."
Tejeda is one of the 142 sixth-graders selected to be part of the new magnet school that started at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.
Students like Tejeda said the program has made school more fun.
"It does. In other schools you don't get to do this kind of stuff," Tejeda said. "I don't think 3D design would be in my school I was about to go to."
From animation, to coding, web design, video production and Photoshop, the kids are truly getting a 21st Century education.
"I like creating things, especially video games and stuff like that," DATA student Daniel Campos said.
Campos was part of a team that designed a video game that won a trophy at a recent competition.
He believes what he's learning in the program will help him be a computer programmer when he graduates.
"I just think DATA is a really good program where you can prepare yourself if you want to do something in technology in the future," Campos said.
In addition to creating their own computer animations and video games, the students have also learned to make three-dimensional designs, which they can then bring to life with a 3D printer in the classroom. While it sounds like a lot of fun, it's all designed to get them ready for jobs in the tech industry.
"Our program really focuses on kids wanting to create technology, not just use it," DATA Director Christina Allen said. "We want to start our kids now so they have that college and career readiness, so when they leave high school, they would be ready to go into a career immediately. Or if they want to go onto college, that's an option, as well."
The program has developed relationships with local tech companies like Rackspace, which also participate in the kids' education.
"They've helped us financially. They come in and mentor our kids," Allen said. "They've been here to volunteer, helping to guide our kids and give them a little bit more insight into how what they're learning right now in class could help them in possible careers in that industry."
While Dani Tejeda isn't sure what she wants to be when she grows up yet, she said DATA has opened her mind to a world of possibilities.
"In the future, a lot of things are going to be technology-based, and I think a lot of jobs will have something to do with technology. So my kind of career plan is very open," Tejeda said. "I think a lot of kids should be learning this stuff at a young age since technology is a big part of our future."
The DATA magnet school isn't just open to NEISD students. Kids from other districts can also apply for the program.
The program is currently accepting applications for next year's class, which is expected to be open to 150 students.
Once they are accepted to the DATA program, students can continue with their studies through eighth grade and then move onto a more accelerated program at Roosevelt High School.