Sophomore Chris Johnson was all smiles on his first day of school at Centennial High School.
He was sitting in what he said is “by far my favorite class.” He is a four-year track to earn a computer programing certification so he’ll be instantly employable when he graduates.
“I love computers,” Johnson said. “We get to learn about all the ways devices communicate back and forth. I want to work with computers as a career, probably in an IT department.”
Johnson is among the first class of students to attend the West Ada Computer Science Magnet School at Centennial.
The first day of school in Idaho’s largest district also signified the first day for the magnet, designed for 10th- through 12th-graders who want to take increasingly advanced courses in computer science and web design and development.
“Our goal is to prepare students with skills that are in demand,” said Staci Low, administrator of West Ada’s Professional Technical Education program. “Our curriculum is aligned to industry so students learn specific transferable skills for the work force or college and career-ready skills.”
All of West Ada’s five high schools offer freshman computer programing and web design classes, and more than 600 students are enrolled over the next two semesters. Last year, only two schools offered such classes.
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Upper-grade students can now begin a four-year track with sequential classes that will earn them some work force credentials or advanced training in either computer science or web design. About 100 students are in the magnet school’s pilot program. Twenty-two of those students must travel to spend half a day at Centennial.
“This is the group we will build the program with and the bulk of interested students will come the year after,” said Dena Pengilly, the West Ada PTE Magnet Programs Outreach Coordinator. “We know these skills will be transferable in any career direction and these kids will have experiences that make them more successful at the post-secondary level.”
Senior Megan Evans is not in the four-year pilot program but is taking a computer science class. She knows she wants to go to college next year but she doesn’t know what she wants to study.
“My parents are both computer engineers and they think it’s important that everyone take computer science no matter what career you choose,” Evans said.
Many in Idaho’s business community agree with Evans’ parents. The Idaho Technology Council wants computer sciences classes in every school as a requirement for graduation. An ITC committee is instigating the effort, designed to change curriculum in order to produce graduates with improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
“Industry is telling us there is a shortage of skilled work force and Boise State University is telling us they are needing more students in the pipe line,” Low said. “This program is industry-driven.”
Said Pengilly: “We make it very applicable to what’s needed. They can walk out of high school and go right into the workforce.”
A recent Gallup and Google study says parents of seventh- to 12th-graders in the United States place a high value on computer science education. Nine in 10 parents say offering opportunities to learn computer science is a good use of resources.
“Many people would be surprised at the depth and rigor of our program,” said Mike McClendon, the computer science teacher at the magnet school.
For more on the program, watch a district-produced video.