When I think of computer science educators, computer science education, and computer science curricula, I think about all the people needed to make it a successful endeavor in a school district and in a larger community as well. Who are the they? How do you leverage their roles to help further computer science education? Three years ago, my district, Valhalla UFSD, embarked on a journey to bring computer science to ALL of our students, K-12.
Valhalla is a small middle to upper-middle class suburban district outside of New York City. We have approximately 1600 students districtwide. Valhalla High School has always offered AP Computer Science A, but we needed more. Once I began teaching the class, I petitioned for an Intro to CS course and was granted the class. This was the beginning of the expansion, but I still had no one particularly interested in helping me promote these courses. It was up to me to make it happen.
The courses went well, but then in my very small school, AP numbers dropped and the trend in the district went away from AP courses and moved to dual enrollment courses with the local community college. I taught C++ and numbers slowly increased over a few years. Students were getting hungry for more.
Here is where people matter. I was approached by my principal, Mr. Jonathon Thomas, who told me that our superintendent at the time, Dr. Brenda Myers (winner of the 2017 CSTA Administrators Award), was interested in offering a game design course and wondered if I would be interested in teaching it. Bingo! Here were my advocates for computer science education in Valhalla. A little petrified, but eager, I had a year to prepare. The course, as expected, was a big hit. As time went on, I suggested adding to our offerings a Mobile App Development course, which was also very well received.
So now, juggling all of these courses, I realized I needed some help, in and out of school. Outside of school, I turned to CSTA to find a local chapter to network with other teachers. To my dismay, there was no local chapter, so I chartered one.
Inside school, I turned to Dr. Myers. She was all for expanding CS education to the four buildings in the district, which include a K-2 primary school, 3-5 elementary school, 6-8 middle school, and the 9-12 high school. In 2015, she called a meeting for a newly formed “Special Projects Team” of 4 computer teachers, one from each building. I looked around the room at my three colleagues, whose CS backgrounds were non-existent (they taught computer applications). We were told we are all going to teach CS, we are all going to learn together, and yes this is going to be bumpy. I have amazing colleagues. No one blinked – we just did it.
Fast forward to today – I am back to teaching AP-CS A, and we have a comprehensive K-12 computer science, engineering, and robotics curricula, which we are currently aligning to the new CSTA Standards. Our kids are programming, thinking computationally, and problem solving in all grades. We have the full support of our district Board of Education as well as our building and district administrators, and guidance teams. We have a community willing to approve budgets and offer grants to increase our offerings and expand our programs and invest in the technology. We owe our progress to the amazing people in Valhalla to believe in the future of computer science education. Our children are the recipients of rich and diverse CS curricula from Kindergarten on.
So find your advocate, find your support, and find your team of players. Reach out to your administrators, communities, and students to find out what you can do together to move computer science education forward in your district. It’s made all the difference in ours.
Amy Fox, 9–12 Representative