Can inner city, at-risk students escape the gravitational pull of poverty by learning the basics of computer coding in high school? Some very bright Stanford University graduate students think so, and they are trying to prove their point in San Antonio.
While most public schools don't teach computer coding, the premise of one new program coming to Highlands High School in the San Antonio Independent School District is to do just that.
The web-based platform aims to teach the basics of coding to young students in a way that is engaging, encouraging, and even fun.
“We’re focusing a lot on the very beginning,” Galant explained. “Your very first impression is so important. Essentially, we try to make all of the things that could turn you off of programming go away.”
In San Antonio, a city already burgeoning with promise in the high-tech and cloud computing fields, the cultivation of STEM knowledge and programming literacy is critical to the city’s economic growth and vitality. CodeHS, Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy, and other such programs are working to bridge the gap in traditional education systems, preparing students for in-demand, high-paying tech jobs.
“If right away you’re doing it, you’re much more likely to continue doing it and persevere when you get to something tricky," he said.
A Friday press release announced that Highlands High School will become the first school in Texas and the second largest in the nation to implement CodeHS, thanks to support from the 80/20 Foundation, Rackspace cofounder and chairman Graham Weston’s charitable organization.
Highlands incoming ninth graders will study CodeHS curriculum, which will provide instruction analogous to that of a first semester college programming course.
“We’re not expecting to get top-notch programmers after one year,” said Galant, “but we are hoping that a lot of them will say, ‘Wow, this is what programming is? I kind of like this stuff. I’m kind of good at this stuff.’ ”
Galant founded CodeHS with another Stanford computer science grad, Jeremy Keeshin, in 2012, with the intent to facilitate a positive introduction to coding that would spark long-term interest. That first interaction, according to Galant, “is key for students to make the decision to continue studying it in college and beyond, and to pursue a career it in the future.”
After hearing Mayor Julián Castro’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last September, Galant reached out to fellow Stanford alumnus about bringing CodeHS to San Antonio.
“I thought it would resonate with him, and that the Stanford connection would get me through.” Indeed, it did. “I sent him an email, and he responded.”
What was essentially a cold call email led to a phone conversation, which ultimately brought the CodeHS team together with the 80/20 Foundation.
"The cities that best prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century will be the ones that thrive," Castro said. "I applaud these efforts to expose young people to the technical backbone of what drives so much of our economy today."
The 80/20 Foundation supports efforts to turn San Antonio into a hub for entrepreneurial and high-tech activity. “[CodeHS] will play a role in building a generation of San Antonians who will be a step ahead of their peers when it comes to cloud computing knowledge,” said the Foundation’s executive director Lorenzo Gomez.
Around 400 participants from Highlands High School will begin the program in the fall, first writing code to direct a dog named Karel to complete simple tasks. Training for Highlands teachers takes place Aug. 12-13.
“Essentially, what kids will learn are the fundamentals of programming, and problem solving with computers,” said Galant. “Hopefully, they will continue to use it after high school, go to college, take a programming class there, major or minor in it, and be prepared to get a job after college.”
For interested parties who aren’t ninth graders at Highlands High School, the program is open to the public. “It's awesome,” said Gomez. “I'm actually taking the course, too – the first module is free.” For $25 a month, basic members can access all site materials, as well as assistance from a CodeHS tutor on the first module. Live help is available for purchase on additional modules. Premium membership at $75 per month allows for unlimited help on all modules without additional purchase.
“Software is an integral part of today’s world, there is no job that doesn’t use at least a small amount of software,” said Gomez. “The employees who know how to use or fix the software will rise above the ones who do not. They will have a competitive edge in the high-skilled, high-paying tech job market and position San Antonio as the cloud computing capital of the world.”
Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz. [Click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.]