Educators tour leading computer science schools

A for Arizona hosted the Computer Science Schools of Excellence Tour last week so Arizona educators could learn from two schools that are leading the way in computer science education.

“Our economy is thriving and right now we have 15,000 unfilled manufacturing and computer operation system positions open, we have 8,000 job openings in cybersecurity and many of these are six-figure jobs,” Emily Anne Gullickson, A for Arizona executive director said.

In partnership with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, A for Arizona is an initiative of the Arizona Chamber Foundation that works to increase the number of low-income students in ‘A’-rated public schools.

“A lot of the schools we partner with from A for Arizona are high poverty schools of 60 percent or greater free and reduced lunch,” Gullickson said.  ‘These are instant jobs to break our kiddos out of the poverty cycle and get them to living wage, thriving jobs and pathways.”

Arizona educators and leaders are working to provide students from lower socioeconomic households with in-demand STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) skills, such as computer science.

It is also top-of-mind across the nation to ensure girls are excelling at those same skills- and it shows.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the girls’ average score on the Technology and Engineering Literacy Exam in 2018 exceeded the boys’ average score by five points.  

Madison Camelview

The first stop on the tour was Madison Camelview Elementary in Phoenix.

Madison Camelview, in the Madison School District, serves about 600 students in grades Kindergarten through fourth.

The school is in the first year of a three-year plan to strengthen STEAM within the curriculum and prepare students for middle school.

The first year is focused on providing after-school clubs and a coding class for 40 minutes every other day one semester out of the school year.

The following year will focus on funding opportunities and adding music and art programs to the classrooms.

The third year will act as a continuation of the second year by adding more to the STEAM programs and preparing the students for their next steps.

“STEAM is always changing in the world we’re in,” Hilary O’Brien, Madison Camelview principal said.

“So, making sure that we’re keeping up with the new technology, new resources that are available to kids. And, we’re constantly serving our community so as our community gives us feedback, then we take their feedback and integrate it into our programs.”  

Madison Camelview recently held a career day to show students where a STEAM education can lead.

“We have pilots coming in, we have people who work for SRP coming in, we have someone coming in who’s doing a lesson on snakes- he’s bringing in snakes for the kids,” Justyne LeBuda, Madison Camelview administrative teacher on assignment said. “We have a firefighter, a policeman, a detective.”

The students rotated classrooms every 20 minutes to learn from more than 20 STEAM professionals from a wide range of careers.

Phoenix Coding Academy

After visiting Madison Camelview, the tour stopped at Phoenix Coding Academy (PCA).

PCA, a specialty school of Phoenix Union High School District, was established as a charter school that currently serves students in ninth through eleventh grade.

The school adds a grade level each year, so it will serve students in ninth through twelfth grade next year.

The school offers a full high school curriculum with a focus on computer coding, technology and Career and Technical Education classes in an effort to prepare students for in-demand jobs.

52 percent of all new STEM jobs are in computing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Our district reached out to the community, AZ Chamber, Phoenix Chamber [and asked] what can we do as a district to get our students ready for the jobs that are coming on? What are the trends we’re seeing? It kept coming back to computer science, technology and programming in computing,” Seth Beute, PCA principal said.

PCA aims to give students a four-year head-start in high-demand skills. The school supports students in their next-steps after graduation, whether they plan to attend a postsecondary institution or enter the workforce.

Sierra Ciaramella

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