Students at Reimagine Prep in Jackson will learn a valuable skill during their first year, one no other school in the state requires students to study: coding.
This will be a new concept for students in Mississippi. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses are not popular here: In 2013, just one student in the entire state took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science. In 2012, just 12 percent of students in Mississippi earned a college degree in a STEM field, slightly below the national average of 14 percent for the same year..
Nationally, employment numbers reflect a gender and racial divide. According to census data, blacks and Hispanics comprised just six and seven percent of the STEM workforce, respectively. The data also shows that just 15 percent of women who graduate with a science and engineering degree work in a STEM field.
That’s why it’s important for all students to learn coding, said Ravi Gupta, co-founder of RePublic Schools, the organization that will run Reimagine. Learning how to code provides students with a valuable skill because the software and technology industries are becoming important and lucrative fields, he said. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 the median income for a computer programmer was $74, 280.
“The world is changing. Our scholars, no matter where they wind up — health care, the military, motor science, education, whatever industry they want to go in —software will be really important,” Gupta said.
Ryan York, director of computer program instruction, played a large part in developing the curriculum for RePublic Schools. He was a computer programmer before he became a teacher, but says his career path is unusual. Not many engineers or programmers go into education, so teachers need to learn to code instead. RePublic Schools offers a basic curriculum for free so that any instructor can learn how to teach coding.
“The trick has been, how do you get teachers to learn the skills that are necessary for them to be able to walk into the classroom and make sure that kids are actually learning things?” York asked.
Michael Burgevin, coding teacher at Liberty Collegiate Academy in Nashville, said didn’t know much about computer programming before he joined RePublic Schools. Formerly a math teacher, he was approached by York with the idea to start teaching students computer programming. He did. Like York, he said the best person to teach a student about computer coding was a teacher, not a programmer.
“I realized we really can’t depend on experts to teach coding because they aren’t in schools, they aren’t in classrooms,” Burgevin said.
The school provides students with laptops and headphones to use during class.
“All of their classes talk about critical thinking and problem solving, but I think this is exciting because they’re doing it in a different way, a different format,” Burgevin said. “It’s very visual which I think they appreciate. They can see their skills progressing.”