Sewickley Academy computer science students open an escape room

Thirteen members of Sewickley Academy’s junior and senior classes are planning an escape, and they’re hoping to involve as many of their classmates, teachers and parents as possible. It’s not an escape from school, in fact, this project has them especially excited for class as they spend their days building and planning an escape room that’s open to parents, students and staff through May 31.

The students are taking a computer science course called Interactive Design and Development, which introduces them to the technical and artistic concepts and techniques of computer design and programming. Students in the class strengthen their logic as well as critical and creative thinking skills, working on tasks like animation and game design in addition to the development of the escape room.

“This is our fifth year creating escape rooms,” said teacher Christy McCloskey. “The students really look forward to the opportunity to showcase their creativity as well as apply their programming skills to the development of the puzzles that must be completed for a successful escape. I’m impressed each year as the students work together, each contributing in their own way and with their own specialties, to deliver an end product that the whole school gets to enjoy.”

“This is the class we were really excited to take,” said senior Isabella Bock.

The class voted on a theme and have been working to create their “zombie apocalypse in the future” story since December 2021. They began construction of the escape room in January, borrowing materials from the Academy’s theater and science departments as well as purchasing some items online and from estate sales.

The escape room, which is open through the end of May, requires participants to begin by watching a video that informs them it is the anniversary of the fall of society and their help is needed to break into the lab and steal the cure for the zombie infection. In 45 minutes, potential escapes must first find their way out of a dark alley (designed within the classroom space at the Academy) by solving the code for the locked door which allows them access to the lab where they’ll need to solve a series of puzzles to obtain the cure, meeting with surprises along the way.

To participate in the Interactive Design and Development course, students must have already completed three computer programming courses along with Advanced Placement Computer Science.

“I took Intro to Programming as a sophomore and thought it was very fun, so I kept going and really enjoy it,” said senior Alisha Mattson. “I love problem-solving – it’s really exciting when you get something right and it works.”

Mattson plans to continue in the field in college, noting that “lots of companies need computer science majors.”

Bock will also be pursuing a computer science degree in college.

“That’s partially due to this class and how much I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a combination of math, science and art, and I love that we get to be really creative. My dream job is to work at NASA, but I’ll start with computer science in college and see where it takes me.”

With a recent $20 million gift, Sewickley Academy will be able to expedite many improvements and enhancements across the campus including the development of a Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 computer science program launching with the 2022-23 academic year. However, computer science isn’t new to the Academy where students have long been engaging in elective study of robotics, digital game design and computer programming. The newly enriched program will include artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, topics that will significantly add to the Academy grads’ skill sets allowing them to be all the more capable to meet the needs of the region’s employers.

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