Grant will increase computer options for ASMSA students

The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts recently received a $ 10,000 grant from the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas to help increase opportunities for female students in high school computer science programs.

The school will use the grant to host an IT equity summit for school districts across the state in 2022, while focusing on strategies and tools to increase the number of female computer science students and provide them with a path from college to career.

“The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas has been committed to intentionally and strategically increasing the number of girls in STEM classes, which puts them on the path to high-demand careers and helps them achieve economic security as women.” , said WFA Executive Director Anna Beth Gorman. A press release.

“ASMSA takes an innovative approach to this work through its Equity in Computing Summit, and we are proud to support this initiative which encourages and enables girls in our state to participate in STEM opportunities. “

ASMSA Director Corey Alderdice said the school has been fortunate enough to work with WFA, which is the only statewide organization focused on the educational and economic development of women and girls. across the state.

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“Much like ASMSA’s commitment to realizing the Governor’s vision of expanding opportunities in informatics, the WFA has also been at the forefront of this conversation through things like their Girls of Promise, Tech initiative. for Good, their tech partnerships, etc. having an organization like the WFA that shares the same level of passion for this topic creates a great space for partnership, ”said Alderdice.

ASMSA Coding Arkansas’ Future Initiative works with school districts to build capacity in computer education. Alderdice said it’s not just about offering coding lessons, but also helping teachers deepen their understanding of computers.

“One of the things that we see as missing is how the districts are working to actively recruit students to take these courses,” he said.

Even though the number of students taking computer courses has grown exponentially in the state thanks to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s initiative, there is still a significant gap between the representation of women and men, said Alderdice.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, about 70% of students taking computer science classes are men and 30% are women. While this reflects national trends, he said it is also one of the areas Arkansas needs to grow.

The goal of the program is to train 15 school districts, from various parts of the state, in which school administrators, counselors and computer teachers will learn how to increase interest and enrollment in computer classes. Specifically, it will focus on recruiting and retaining female students in college, middle and high school computer science classes.

The summit will be an opportunity to respond to the need to educate, nurture and encourage young women in computer science. While exposing them to research areas such as robotics, engineering, and safety issues related to game development, classroom activities will incorporate art, sports, and other topics.

“With this informatics equity summit, what we’re working on are teams of district educators across the state learning about the importance of equity, how you position programs so that Female students who often view these experiences as male dominated can find a space for themselves and how it all comes together to create an inclusive culture for all parties to explore computing, ”he said .

Alderdice stressed the importance of guidance counselors and school administrators in addition to the teacher. Each, he said, plays a vital role.

“Certainly, the teacher on the ground is essential, because he is the one who delivers the content,” he said. “They are the student’s daily point of contact. Guidance counselors are decision-makers. finding their place – building their overall narrative in terms of both college and career down the line. “

It also helps them ultimately decide which courses they want to take, he said, noting that school administrators help shape a school’s culture, goals and vision.

“When these three people are aligned understand what’s at stake and what the opportunities are, that’s where you start to see the needle move in this area,” he said.

Much more than taking computer classes, Alderdice said the code-learning movement is ultimately about college readiness, workforce development, and the ability to overcome challenges. – as a state – of the innovation economy.

“Needless to say there are lots and lots of tech industry jobs available across the country, but also acutely here in Arkansas as well and this is only expected to increase over time,” he said. he declared.

“So it makes perfect sense that we don’t want to leave half the population out when it comes to those, you know, quality, well-paying jobs and great careers. It’s not about therefore not only an investment in education, it is also a commitment to economic development. ”

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