Christian Co. schools' computer science courses are in high demand; classes are filled to capacity even though the district has expanded its offerings

Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville, Aug.  30, 2017

CCPS expanding computer science options

By Sam Morgen

Christian County Public Schools have expanded their computer science offerings, and the classes have already filled to capacity.

“Enrollment is so high we need a second teacher,” said Gateway Academy Principal Penny Knight.

CCPS increased the resources devoted to computer science education beginning this school year, as part of a pilot program across the commonwealth of Kentucky, in which 32 other districts are also participating.

The Kentucky Department of Education coordinated the initiative, in which school districts increase the amount of computer science learning opportunities offered to students, as part of an effort to get kids interested in STEM careers.

KDE Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said in a news release that the United States has 494,000 unfilled computing jobs, but only 43,000 computer science graduates to fill those jobs.

As part of the pilot, CCPS will offer more computer science classes at Gateway Academy for students of both Hopkinsville High School and Christian County High School, as well as begin to offer a rudimentary computer science class at Christian County Middle School.

Two teachers at Sinking Fork Elementary and Crofton Elementary have also begun to teach elementary school students about the concepts required for computer science.

“We know that we really have to start kids on thinking about the idea of coding in elementary school,” said CCPS Chief Instructional Officer Amy Wilcox.

She said she hoped all schools in the district could have teachers trained to teach computer science courses by next school year. This year’s pilot program will attempt to work out the kinks in the system.

A stated goal for the statewide initiative is to provide more opportunities for computer science learning for all students, especially those typically underrepresented in rigorous high school courses.

The lack of women and people of color employed by technology companies has long dogged the industry. Various organizations have sought to counteract the trend by getting children of various backgrounds interested in computer science from a young age.

For students currently in computer science classes at Gateway Academy, they said they find the class fun and engaging. Dominic Welch and Trey Simmons, both enrolled in AP Computer Science, they said they had not had much experience in technology before taking classes at Gateway.

“I always had a problem with my computer at home,” Tray said. “I was like, ‘I should take this class so I can figure out my computer.’”

He noted he hoped to become an ethical hacker, which his teacher Sean Conley assured had career opportunities.

Zoe Hollis, a student in video game design, also offered at Gateway, said she enjoyed the ability to meld art with technology.

Conley, who began his first year teaching last school year after ten years with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), travelled to Houston this summer, as part of the pilot program.

“This is the best job I’ve had,” he said.

When it comes to inspiring students to learn computer science, a topic that has been known to be boring, Conley said he did not find it difficult.

He said he asked his students, “Hey do you like applications? Do you like your phone? Do you like the stuff you do every day? Do you want to know how to make it?”

The commonwealth’s initiative will partner with code.org, a nonprofit organization intended to bring computer science to a diverse group of students.

“We’re always looking for anything that helps students progress in their pathways,” Knight said. “Through this program, (the students) are getting so much more than they think they’re getting.”

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