"Support local change,” “increase rigor and equity,” and “grow the movement.” These are three things that one would see when first opening the CSforAll webpage. The CSforAll Consortium is a effort started by the National Science Foundation to make computer science accessible for all students nationwide. Recently, the organization has added Dev Catalyst, a program of theCO, as a new consortium member alongside big tech companies like Google, Dell, Facebook, and Teach For America.
CSforAll’s ultimate goal is to create ways for computer science to be adapted into school systems to give students technological opportunities that they might not have been exposed to before. This idea is something that has had a major impact in Jackson and has opened the door for programs like Dev Catalyst to implement those thoughts on a more regional scale. This has been made possible through the curriculum designed to cultivate and grow the abilities of students with technological talents in the greater West Tennessee area.
“Computer science should be accessible to all students regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, or special needs,” says Molly Plyler, Educational Outreach Coordinator at theCO and Dev Catalyst supervisor.
Dev Catalyst delivers access to students by holding competitions for high school computer science students and coaching local teachers in how to best present and teach the content.
Dev Catalyst students work on projects of various calibers, and competition winners are awarded a Tech Tour of San Francisco to tour big tech companies like Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
“Every year when we take our award winning students and teachers on the tech tour of San Francisco, the tech recruiters always comment on our group,” Plyler says. “They comment on the fact that we usually run fifty-fifty male to female students, which is very unusual in the IT sector, and we always have multiple races represented, which makes us unique. I think part of the reason we are seeing more diversity among our Dev Catalyst students is because they have not been exposed to as many stereotypes of what a ‘coder’ should look like.”
Dev Catalyst’s membership to CSforAll further encourages the program to approach tech education with the mindset that any child and any teacher with the desire to learn coding and computer science skills should have access to the necessary resources to do so, which is important for West Tennessee.
Rhonda Heard, a mother of a student at Early College High School, shared her appreciation for what Dev Catalyst was able to do for her child after relocating from Atlanta: “When my child came to Early College, she got so involved in the program and in the class that she was able to develop a lot of those skills she’s going to need—the grit she is going to need to be successful in the future.”
Despite the various personal obstacles each student has to overcome, Heard says the challenge is rewarding in the end and gives students the chance to experience new things.“To be honest, a lot of the kids at Early College may not have opportunities to go outside of Tennessee,” Heard continues. “And so the fact that [my daughter] was able to travel so far and go to Google and see all of the things she saw in San Francisco was amazing. I’ve never been to California, and what she saw, what she learned, and what she brought back has changed my child.”
The student projects submitted for the Dev Catalyst competition are submitted without the judges’ knowledge of personal stories or backgrounds, and this past year, two special education students were selected to attend the San Francisco trip for their champion work.
“We have found that local autistic students have done very well in coding classes,” Plyler says. “For example, writing code tends to involve attention to detail and some repetition, which are strengths that you often see with students on the autism spectrum. . . . Sometimes in the tech sector you find companies where employees all look alike. And the beauty of exposing students to technology is that it doesn’t become something where they’re aspiring to fill a current role or stereotype; it becomes an employable skill that every student in the program is gaining.”
So what if computer science was able to become more than a class at school, and Dev Catalyst more than stimulation for existing talent?
“In the same way that all students are expected to learn how to read and write, what if we expected every student to learn how to code and build technology products?” Plyler continues. “What we see by taking this mindset in Dev Catalyst is that students from all walks of life discover that technology is their talent, and they pursue higher learning activities, even post-secondary schooling, training, and jobs in this sector.”
Dev Catalyst and CSforAll have been able to promote technology education in schools around Tennessee and nationwide and will continue to engage with students who show talent and promise.
To learn more about CSforAll visit their website here.