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CS in the Valley: A Public-Private Partnership in South Texas

October 17, 2017 by

Mission, Texas is excited about bringing new opportunities to the Valley and filling those jobs with local talent. This city, just a mile from the Mexican border in the rapidly growing Rio Grande Valley, is eager to make sure all of its students are learning CS to prepare for jobs that are already available with nearby industries.

Julia Barraford-Temel, Code/Interactive’s Program Manager of Expansion, met Cristina Garza, Program Director for Mission’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), while coaching computer science teachers in the Rio Grande Valley. Our shared mission was evidence from the very beginning, since Mission EDC has already helped to create programs like Code the Town with Sylvan Learning.

“We have a responsibility to equip the children of mission with the computer science skills that will provide them financial mobility as adults, and we have a responsibility to the city of Mission to take care of its economy by creating a generation of tech savvy citizens,” Garza said about the computer science initiative.

Code/Interactive and Mission EDC formed a public-private partnership to train Mission CISD teachers in computer science courses and to guide the district to build a sustainable computer science program. After investing in robotics and after school programs for many years, computer science classes were the clear next step.

In early 2017, Mission CISD committed to a quick ramp-up to identify teachers for professional development so they wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity. Encouraged by Dr. Sharon Roberts, who truly embodies the “Change the World” mantra at Mission CISD, 23 teachers signed up for summer professional development in Scratch Creative Computing, CS Discoveries, and Exploring Computer Science.

Over the next three years, Code/Interactive has committed to help Mission CISD finalize their Computer Science District Implementation Plan to ensure that all students gain access to quality computer science education in a progression that makes sense for the district. This includes several benchmarks that we hope to meet by the end of those three years of professional development and support:

  • All students will take at least one unit of computer science in elementary, middle, and high school
  • Elementary School grades will teach Scratch Creative Computing, then integrate Scratch in cross-curricular lessons to cover content while reinforcing computational thinking.
  • Middle School grades will receive an introduction to programming in their TechApps course as a robust unit in the curriculum.
  • High School students will have the opportunity to take full-year computer science courses with a sequence ending in either AP Computer Science Principles or AP Computer Science A.
  • Follow-up professional development and community building are important for beginning teachers, so Code/Interactive is helping to create a system of support for teachers using existing networks like the CS4TX RGV Meetup.

For our launch event last week, the district hosted administrators and guests from Mission EDC at R. Cantu Junior High School, where Daniel Reyna’s students showcased the apps and Scratch projects that they were working on.

“I had to put several codes for each character,” said student Roberto Alaniz. “And they would disappear whenever the background switched.”

“It makes them think outside the box, it makes them think critically,” R. Cantu Junior HS computer science teacher Daniel Reyna said. “Nowadays everything is about technology, everything is right at your fingertips, you can Google anything. But it’s what you do with the information that makes you important or relevant.”

While this is just one district’s vision of #CSforAll, we hope that it can serve as an example that a multi-year commitment can help any district offer computer science to all students. There are so many different routes from which to choose, but bringing computer science to all of our students is important enough to sit and plan to make sure it happens.

Special thanks to:

  • Alex Meade and Cristina Garza from Mission EDC
  • Julia Barraford-Temel from Code/Interactive, who set up and manages this partnership
  • Mission CISD administration, including Sharon Roberts, Dr. Ricardo Lopez, Cynthia Wilson, Cris Valdez and all the administrators, teachers, and students who are working to hard to make CS a priority in the district.
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