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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade County Public Schools has a new initiative that students are extremely excited about.
It’s a gaming computer class, but it’s only in place at less than a handful of schools right now.
It’s a huge hit with the students, and so is the teacher who started it all.
This is Mr. Michael Sakowicz’s second year teaching at Varela Senior High. Actually, it’s his second year teaching anywhere.
“Mister”, as Mr. Sakowicz’s students call him, teaches “Digital Media and Virtual Game Design” at the school.
“Students are actually getting to learn some of the basics and intermediate steps of actually creating their own game worlds and game designs,” Mr. Sakowicz explains. “While also, learning some basic programming language.”
It is an elective class, so the kids choose to take the course. Mister says at first students thought it was just a regular ol’ computer class, not realizing how special this really was: virtual reality.
“The first day I showed them the headsets, they were like, ‘Mister are those for us?’ ‘Yes, I will explain everything. Yes it is part of the class but we are going to learn with everything.’ And it has been just so much to open them up to and they’ve really been enjoying it,” he says.
The students learn to code computer programs and create games. Then they get to immerse themselves in the world they create with the virtual reality headsets. Mister makes sure they avoid any accidents as they weave and bob their heads while moving through their virtual world.
Mr. Sacowicz spent 20 years in the private sector in advertising and computers. But, with a family full of teachers, that knowledge seemed a perfect fit for a new career.
“Seeing the students learn new things every day, and seeing what I am, you know, working on,” he says. “And my self-learning and what I am able to share with them and then them being in the mindset where they are just still sponges. And still in high school, everything is new to them and they love it.”
And by all accounts, they do love it, and they love Mister.
Senior Susana Ceballos was pleasantly surprised when she first signed up for the class last year.
“I took this class because last year, I fell in love with computer “I originally wasn’t a computer geek, nerd kind of. I thought, oh it is so nerdy, so weird. And then I just fell in love with it. Like he made it in a way that it was so just, fun. And it just allowed for me to be creative.”
Susana now wants to be a computer teacher just like Mr. Sacowicz.
“He just is so welcoming. Some teachers they’re just like, ‘okay let’s do the work and that is it.’ But he, he wants to help you,” she explains. “He wants to help you grow. He just finds every single way to help you and he understands that every student learns differently. So he is very flexible. He tries teaching other kids within their needs and he is very amazing at doing that.”
“I joined and it was like, it was out of this world. It was amazing,” says 9th grader Carlo Mejia.
Carlo says at first he had no idea what the class was when he signed up. But, it intrigued him.
“I was shocked,” he says. “I was like, I thought this was gonna be some hard class. Like coding and everything. But it’s actually really easy. It helps you a lot with computers. So it was like, ‘this is gonna be tough but it’s gonna help me out later in life.’”
And now, out of six classes he takes, including requirements like world history and geometry, this is his favorite, and Mister his favorite teacher.
“He’s really a good teacher. He’s really good. He’s actually helped me,” he says smiling. “At first I didn’t know how to do anything. He taught me everything I know right now. It was fast. Like I know everything…it was really fast. Faster than most of the students here. When we were working, I was like blank. I couldn’t do anything at all. And when I asked him for his help it like, clicked. Everything came together like a puzzle. Everything came together just like that.”
Mister Sacowicz helps further boost the student’s sense of pride by displaying all their work.
“It literally feels like if we are in a museum,” Susana says proudly. “That you worked so hard to do a project, and he just displays it around the room so that everyone can see their amazing work and how hard you did to do your creations, your masterpieces. No other teacher does that. If you write an amazing essay, they’re not going to put it on the wall.”
“For anybody who wants to join this class to actually improve, this is really good,” Carlo adds. “It actually helps you in life and helps you with college. It gives you a boost to enter college.
“It is so rewarding to see every day, them learning something new and where they’re able to take it,” says Sacowicz. “I’ll show them one or two things of what we’re going to do for a project and they take it and run with it. They come up with these amazing projects that every day I am just pleasantly surprised of what they are capable of creating.”
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