Gov. Jim Justice signed Thursday at Cranberry-Prosperity Elementary in Raleigh County a bill making West Virginia the first state in the nation to require that students receive computer science education before graduating high school. 

The ceremonial bill signing took place in the "Innovation Learning Lab" within the school, where students do the bulk of their digital learning work. 

Students in different grade levels stood around Gov. Justice, assisting in signing the bill that will help them in further learning. 

"I've said all along that we need to make education our centerpiece here in West Virginia," Justice said. "For a long time, our state was 50th in just about everything. That's why I'm so proud that we're the first state in the nation to make sure all out students get a top-notch education in a subject as important as computer science.

"This will help us attract even more technology companies to our state and encourage our brightest young minds to build their careers right here at home." 

Signing the new law checks off a goal Justice highlighted during his 2019 State of the State address, where he called for West Virginia to become the first state to pass such a law. 

"This, this is my bill," he said. "This will teach our kids to be prepared in every form and fashion. People often think of us as last, but when I sign this we are first." 

Audrey Williams, a Technology Integration Specialist for Raleigh County Schools who oversees much of what goes on in the Innovation Learning Lab at Cranberry-Prosperity, commended the governor's bill and said waiting until students get to high school is too big of a wait to introduce technology-based learning. 

"I think by the time they get to high school they miss so many opportunities, so this bill gives them the chance to start coding as young as pre-school," said Williams. "Our kids here actually code Pre-K through fifth grade. Over the past few years, we notice as they start younger, then they're able to produce their own video games or their own programs by the time they get to fifth grade." 

Williams explained "coding" is telling a robot or a computer program specifically what you want it to do, which teaches the students how to follow directions and how to be specific. 

"We were so excited that Governor Justice chose to come to Cranberry because the kids here work really hard and they have a lot to offer," she said. "We were excited they were able to show off their skills." 

The Innovation Learning Lab at Cranberry-Prosperity Elementary was recently put into place this school year from funding through grants, and according to fourth-grader Austin Long, it's one of his favorite areas of the school. 

Austin has been dubbed the "Ed Tech," where he assists younger students who are also taking on digital learning. 

"I think computer science learning is really important because a lot of jobs now don't have people that work there who can work well with technology," Austin said. "If you learn how to do it when you are really young in school you have a better chance of having a higher paying job when you're older." 

Computer science and digital learning also incorporate other subjects too, Austin explained. 

"Like now, we're doing Minecraft competitions. I just did one about West Virginia History and the Hatfields and McCoys," he said. 

Austin said having Gov. Justice attend his school to sign the bill passing the law was "cool" and he's thankful the governor thinks computer science education is important. 

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine also attended the ceremonial bill signing, and stressed the importance of computer science training for students. 

"We collectively recognize that computer science is fundamental for students' success in future careers and receiving this instruction will assist them in the transition to industry credentialing and college degrees," Paine said. 

After signing the bill, Gov. Justice issued a proclamation declaring Feb. 28, 2019 as "Digital Learning Day" in West Virginia. 

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH