Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts receives $10,000 grant from the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas

HOT SPRINGS — The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts has received a $10,000 grant from the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas to help increase opportunities for female students in high school computer science programs.

The school will use the grant to host an Equity in Computer Science Summit for school districts across the state in 2022, while focusing on strategies and tools to increase female student enrollment within computer science and provide them a path from college to career.

The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts’ Coding Arkansas’ Future initiative works with school districts to build their capacity in computer science education. Corey Alderdice, director of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, said this is not only about offering courses in coding, but also helping teachers increase their understanding of computer science.

“One of the pieces that we see as missing is how districts work to actively recruit students to take those courses,” he said.

Even though the number of students taking computer courses has grown exponentially in the state through Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s initiative, there is still a sizable gap in female versus male representation, Alderdice said.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, about 70% of students taking computer science classes are male and 30% are female. While this mirrors national trends, he said it also represents one of the areas Arkansas needs to grow.

The program’s goal is to train 15 school districts, from various parts of the state, in which school administrators, counselors and computer science teachers will learn how to increase interest and enrollment in computer science courses. Specifically, it will focus on the recruitment and retention of female students in middle school, junior high and high school computer science classes.

The summit will act as an opportunity to address the need to educate, nurture and encourage young women in computer science. While exposing them to such research areas as robotics, engineering and security issues to game development, classroom activities will incorporate art, sports and other subjects.

“With this computer science equity summit, what we’re working toward is teams of educators from districts across the state learning about the importance of equity, how you position programs so that female students who often see these experiences as being male-dominated can find a space for themselves in them, and how all that combines together to create a culture that is inclusive for all parties to explore computer science,” he said.

This also helps them ultimately decide what classes they want to take, he said.

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