Coding the new language at BRHS
Coding is making its debut in classrooms at Bordentown Regional High School this fall—much to students’ delight.
BRHS has paired with the Community District Alliance to offer brand new classes to students come this school year. Principal Rob Walder is working alongside Science, Technology, Education and Math coordinator and teacher Amy Wright, director of CDA Sandy Ewell and others to lead a new curriculum for their high school students.
“The demand for coding is high, so I’m not sure why it’s not huge in New Jersey yet, but I know it will be soon,” Wright said.
BRHS will turn its computer application classes into a subject that is more sought after in the field: introduction to computer science.
“You see it everyday. We can no longer put it off. Instead, we have to be the one that drives and develops [computer science opportunities],” Walder said.
And it was Wright’s insistence that persuaded Walder to move ahead and introduce the new curriculum this fall.
“When I was at the middle school, Ms. Wright was, too and she just wouldn’t stop talking about the need for coding. She was so persistent,” Walder said. “She never stopped talking, and I really appreciate that because it opened my eyes to why we desperately need this in our schools.”
It was the natural progression to introduce these classes following previous CDA summer camps Wright taught at with the help of Ewell in Bordentown. The two couldn’t ignore the programs’ popularity.
In the summer of 2013, Ewell and Wright worked together to put on a one-week Tech Camp for local children. By the next summer, they added a one-week Robotics Camp. That camp exceeded capacity, so the CDA tacked on another week’s worth of camp to keep up with demand. This past summer, they adding coding to the lineup, and over 100 area kids signed up.
“I ended up having to turn away kids (this summer). It was quite crazy,” Ewell said. “I knew things were gaining popularity when the first thing Amy said was ‘I don’t know if I can do all of this.’ But she did a wonderful job and it just goes to show the STEM curriculum is recruiting more students.”
Offering this new class is just the beginning, Walder added.
“This is step one…We have many people on our staff interested in learning this curriculum and teaching it, so we will definitely call on them for more curriculum offerings to students,” Walder said.
The district hopes to eventually integrate computer science at all levels, starting in Kindergarten. It’s a prospect Ewell looks forward to.
“When we start seeing children who began this all the way back in Kindergarten and they get to high school, we better watch out,” Ewell said. “They will know more than all of us.”
Walder, Ewell and Wright hope to eventually offer AP computer science at BRHS. Whether that happens next year or in three years is totally dependent on how students respond to the new class.
Wright thinks that response will be positive based on her past experiences. She most recently taught computer basics at Bordentown Regional Middle School and has been in the district for 10 years. What’s unique to her experience is the fact that she taught every single student that walked through that doors of BRMS during her time there. She recalls many of them asking them where more computer classes were—especially those going off into high school.
“You know, I saw students that acted out in class or weren’t the best students just excel at computers. This will be great for everyone,” Wright said.
In the past, the district has offered students opportunities through Web Club, Robotics and other groups, but nothing has been quite as comprehensive. Coding is furthering the STEM path at BRHS.
Ewell, Wright and Walker all agree that the art of coding lays the foundation of computer communication, and it has no “gender.” Both boys and girls enjoy diving into the fundamentals of the coding world.
“Computer science will level the playing field,” Ewell said. “It’s not a boy thing or a girl thing. It’s not even if you have a computer [or not]. If you want to do it, you can do it and be great at it.”
Coding careers are on the cusp of explosion. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a study showing over a million computer science job openings by 2020 with only 400,000 people qualified to fill them. The bureau also projected a 17 percent increase in jobs for software developers, which is a “much faster than average” outlook compared to other industries. These are just two of the many staggering statistics proving the desperate need for computer science training—and it’s part of the reason BRHS and other schools all over the country are beefing up their computer science curricula.
Careers range from coding the latest app to intricate computer programming software, and Forbes reports that the average starting salary in the field is $71,500.
“The research and the facts are out there. The job openings are available,” Walder said. “Students need to start studying computer science, and it’s our job to provide it to them.”
Walder has been in constant contact with other Burlington County principals to see how they have executed their own computer science programs. Wright constantly checks Twitter and other social media platforms to see the latest and greatest in the coding world to perfect her curriculum.
Although the future looks bright for BRHS, there are still some looming problems—funding is the most pressing. The CDA currently offers financial assistance for the program, but that will only be sustainable for a few years. As the program grows, funds will need to increase to assist with everything from travel needs to competition fees. Corporate sponsors will end up being necessary for the success of the program.
The three hope for the best for the future of the program until then.
“My hope is that we will see critical thinking that will help communities, help globally through these types of programs. Coding and computer science is the way of the future,” Ewell said.
To donate to the Bordentown District STEM program, e-mail Principal Rob Walder for more information at email@example.com.