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National Effort Boosts Computer Science in VA Schools

School building
A Richmond-based nonprofit is working to make Central Virginia's schools "CS ready." (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

During a live virtual event Tuesday, the computer science group CSforAll announced  that over a hundred companies and organizations are working to improve computer science education in public schools nationwide.

CodeVA, a computer science education advocacy group in Richmond, is one of those organizations. Thanks to grants totaling almost $5 million, the nonprofit is partnering with Amazon and the National Science Foundation.

Chris Dovi, CodeVA’s executive director, says in September the group started helping implement curricula in 19 schools, including Franklin Military Academy in Richmond, with the goal of designating the schools as “CS Ready.”

“That CS Ready school initiative is something that will eventually be a badge for the school, sort of like with Blue Ribbon schools,” Dovi said.

To fund this initiative, the organization will receive $1.3 million per year from Amazon Future Engineer for three years to design and implement computer science programs for 500,000 Virginia students. 

CodeVA is also receiving about $1 million from the National Science Foundation to train educators to teach computer science in their classrooms. By 2021, the partnership will provide guides and toolkits to 132 grade-school teachers to help integrate computer science into their lesson plans.

Dovi says this is an extension of a preexisting effort CodeVA started two years ago to coach educators through a new Virginia mandate that requires schools to implement computer education through the eight grade. Virginia was the first state in the country to implement such requirements.

“There are more than 500,000 vacant computing positions in the United States,” Dovi said. “In Virginia, it’s about 70,000 open unfilled jobs right now.”

The commitments made by the CSforAll-partner organizations also aim to focus on racial equity. Despite large job demand, Dovi says diversity is one of the areas where the computer science field needs the most improvement.

“Right now, 78% of CS industry professionals are men. And there's a massively high percentage of those that are white and Asian male,” he said.

Outside of Central Virginia, CodeVA will also assist Loudoun County Public Schools in creating a K-12 computer science pipeline for 100,000 students by July of 2022. Also in Northern Virginia, Lord Fairfax Community College will introduce computer science to parents and guardians through family engagement nights as part of the CSforAll campaign.