Batavia High School student creates online safety, digital literacy program for elementary and middle schools

Kane County elementary and middle school students have the opportunity to learn computer skills through Fox Valley Coding Buddies, a teen-run program developed by a Batavia High School student.

Aleksander Simeunovic, the creator of Fox Valley Coding Buddies, began the early planning stages of his program in late 2022, and the free computer workshops began in January. Although the program originally began with students from Batavia High School and Naperville North High School, the program is independent of any school districts and is completely volunteer-based.

As of early April, the program has hosted 46 workshops across eight suburban school districts for students in grades 3-8. Workshops are now unavailable, but are expected to be available again in August.

“Over the next school year, we plan to expand into more districts,” Simeunovic, a junior, said. “The more students that can benefit, the better.”

Based on the wide-spread learning the program provides, there are several workshops and approaches that districts can chose. The program’s most popular workshops are centered around online safety, digital literary, computer programming and machine learning. The length of workshops vary from school to school, but they typically last a few days.

“These [workshops] are tailored for each school with adjustments for class size, grade level and so forth,” Simeunovic said. “Sometimes, our workshops are entirely independent programs offered outside of school, sometimes they are special events at pre-existing school clubs and other times we go into classrooms during the school day.”

Batavia High school junior Aleksander Simeunovic created Fox Valley Coding Buddies, a online safety program for local elementary and middle schools.

The program typically is module-based to provide the best learning environment for students. Modules allow students to work at their own pace and feel more engaged. Computers are not always needed for workshops, but sometimes schools provide them.

“The workshops are far away from a lecture,” Simeunovic said. “They’re engaging and fun. Students don’t always use a computer. For our online safety workshop, there is a discussion with activities.”

In just a few months, Simeunovic has watched students grow more engaged with the program. He also sees how the volunteers involved with the program have become more comfortable being leaders.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth,” Simeunovic said. “Students are becoming more comfortable, interested and skilled. It’s amazing to see students filled with wonder and awe. Volunteers are learning how to lead a classroom.”

This year, there have been 1,550 student participants. Since the program is volunteer-based, there are 76 trained volunteers and eight executive board members who run the program. Funding for the program has come from fundraisers or out of Simeunovic’s own pocket.

Executive board member Katherine Ducoff has been part of the program since its planning stages. She is a senior at Batavia High School and has her own program where she mentors grade school kids. She has helped Simeunovic with creating his program and has watched the program grow.

“The biggest improvements [in the program] have been Alek’s outreach and how it’s a multi-district program now,” Ducoff said. “It’s great that Alek decided to touch on that to make kids aware they need to be safe and not taken advantage of by new technologies.”

The program combines learning about computers with learning to be safe with them.

“It’s not really about just teaching kids cybersecurity and technology,” Ducoff said. “Kids want to learn about computer science and how to be safe in the new emerging world of computers. It’s great that Alek is helping with this within the country.”

Simeunovic plans to continue to grow his program and spread the workshops to any district that is interested. He wants to build on the progress made and continue providing engaging workshops for students.

“[It’s about] building a community as a whole,” Simeunovic said. “Our goal is to inspire the youth and to make a difference with a basic computer.”