During the final session of the day, Julie Jordan, director of the Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU) for Workforce Development, Vocational and Technical Education at Mississippi State University was joined by Devin Holmes of Big Sky Code Academy, a non-profit that is working to increase the tech talent pipeline in Montana.

As Devin described the challenges of expanding access to computer science education in his state, I was struck by the similarities to Mississippi. Montana is a predominantly rural and sparsely populated state and in many communities schools serve only a small number of students. The state is known for its natural beauty but is not known a technology hub and, like Mississippi, experiences significant “brain drain” of highly educated natives finding opportunities in other states.

Devin started the Big Sky Code Academy as a workforce development program for adults and later as a Code.org partner for teacher training. Their primary offering is a 12-week bootcamp that focuses on full-stack web development skills.

Julie discussed the planning and implementation of Mississippi’s CS4MS pilot, which the Mississippi State University RCU spearheaded with support from a broad coalition of education and industry stakeholders (including me). Early on, it was decided that the goal would be to make computer science its own high school graduation requirement, rather than replace math or science courses as is done in most other states. A general technology credit is already required for graduation from Mississippi high schools.

She also spoke about the teacher training and support behind the CS4MS roll-out. The RCU project manager leading the pilot, Shelly Hollis, visited every school participating in the initiative during its first year to talk to teachers and administrators about their experiences with the program and curriculum, a practice which Julie believes has had a tremendous influence on the program’s success to date. (Side note: Shelly and her fellow project manager on the CS4MS project, Kenny Langley, and their colleagues at the RCU care deeply about Mississippi and are working hard to improve education outcomes and accelerate innovation and achievement in our state. Good people!)

Julie acknowledged the difficulty of finding and training highly competent computer science teachers at the high school level, and she expects that online curriculum will have to be incorporated as the program expands into more rural and low-resource school districts.

That was my last session of the day and, I have to say, my brain felt quite full from the firehose stream of information and ideas. It was an amazing day, but truly a lot to absorb at once.


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Photo: A Mississippi student learns coding using Code Studio from Code.org. Photo by Tate Nations.