computer science

Partnerships strengthen computer science movement

Programs between the education, business communities help students become engaged in computer science courses from a younger age

Computer science education is enjoying more prominence thanks to awareness efforts such as the Hour of Code, as well as states’ efforts to put more weight behind Advanced Placement computer science course credits.

As computer science grows in popularity, some districts are going beyond traditional courses and are partnering with local businesses to take their computer science education to the next step.

In Stevens Point, Wisc., the staff at Pacelli Catholic Schools is working closely with Skyward, which is based nearby, to implement technology-based courses and computer science courses into the curriculum.

“Last year, we offered nothing in terms of computer science courses,” said Jeff Bushman, the district’s director of technology. “This year, we started small and started with our first high school class, which is a Project Lead The Way class.”

The district also offered a third grade coding pilot program through a partnership that paired each third grade student with a mentor from local businesses and the local technical college.

At the middle school level, students could take a one-semester computer science course using Google CS First.

“I’ve worked really hard with our administrators and staff–we’re going to have a full K-12 coding and computer science curriculum rolled out next year,” Bushman said.

Skyward has provided mentors to the district and brings industry perspective to the district.

“If our students get through these courses, when they’re seniors, we really want to place them out in the industry to tackle real-world problems,” Bushman said. “We’re trying to get these kids hooked–it’s not just sitting behind a computer and typing in code.”

The partnership is a win-win for the district and for Skyward: students have mentors to guide them through computer science concepts, and Skyward has the opportunity to shape curriculum that directly relates to the skills the company’s future employees need to possess.

“This is a really major project for us,” said Ray Ackerlund, chief marketing officer at Skyward. “We work with the local university and technical college, too. We’re going to need a lot of employees because our growth rate is so fast. It’s difficult to find really high-qualified people to fill those roles.”

Some of the partnership’s impetus came from the challenge of sustaining student interest in computer science.

“Students’ level of interest in technology is not consistent with what the industry is looking for in terms of people to fill those roles,” Ackerlund said. “Our goal is to work with them to give more opportunities for kids to have experiences in technology, and learn what it is like to work in a technology field, as early as possible in their educational career to drive interest.”

Skyward is part of a Partners in Education committee that links the education community with industry in order to build relationships and learning opportunities between the two.

“I think the relationship between the two is extremely important–that’s what really makes a community,” Ackerlund said. “If you can have a strong relationship between the education and the business communities, it will strengthen and promote the community as a whole and create more job opportunities.”

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