CSTA Equity Fellow Catherine Medina-DeVilliers is a Puerto Rican-American who has taught mathematics and computer science at the secondary level for over twenty years.
CSTA Equity Fellow Catherine Medina-DeVilliers is a Puerto Rican-American who has taught mathematics and computer science at the secondary level for over twenty years. Throughout her career, she’s worked to support expanding computer science to marginalized students.
To Medina-DeVilliers, equity denotes fairness and impartiality. “In teaching, we use rubrics and many best practices to be consistent and “fair,” said Medina-DeVilliers. However, is it fair to provide a book to a student who can not see and expect a reading assignment to be done?”
“One could say all students received the ‘same’ or equitable amounts, but providing a tool a student can not use is not equitable,” she continued. “Equity within my practice of teaching is to provide a learning environment where all students can learn, discover, receive, and impart knowledge freely and not be inhibited. Differences such as blindness become inequitable if proper tools are not provided to the student so they can access information. For instance, I had a blind student for whom the usual classroom material was of little use. I searched for and provided audiobooks, verbally-focused lectures, and screen magnification software to teach her.”
Medina-DeVilliers recognized that the inequities in the classroom are harder to compensate for are the invisible ones. And that having low expectations because of students’ race, ethnicity, special needs, or economic background is also “inequitable.”
“In order to help students achieve their potential, I take great efforts to get to know students and build relationships,” shared Medina-DeVilliers. “In this way, I build a diverse learning environment where students feel safe to take on challenges and become intrinsically persistent to be successful. I firsthand live and fully understand the inequities in the field of computer science. As both a woman and Hispanic, I see a few others like me, but I know my presence is a message that others like me can achieve in this field. It is my passion to teach computer science to exemplify another face of a computer scientist.”
Since she became a computer science teacher in her high school, Medina-DeVilliers continually and increasingly disrupted the inequalities of marginalized groups. In her first year, the AP Computer Science enrollment went from one APCS A class to five. That in itself would not be disruptive, but her sections have the highest minority enrollment compared to all the AP classes in the high school.
“Currently, over eighty percent of my students are from marginalized groups including: Female, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, Economically Disadvantaged, Special Needs, and English Language Learners,” shared Medina-DeVilliers. “That is opposite of what the other AP classes show. Building a strong relationship with your students and colleagues is imperative. Students have to experience that you genuinely believe in their ability to succeed and you care. When they know and trust you, this is conveyed to their friends and parents. They sell your class and enhance your enrollment. Fellow teachers and counselors will also promote your classes because they trust and know you have the best interests of your students first.”
Medina-DeVilliers has created these relationships by working with counselors and actively recruiting from marginalized groups. She also takes part in organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers and speaks to students at Alexandria City High School International Academy.
Another area where Medina-DeVilliers has been recognized is in the area of female enrollment in CS. Alexandria City High School was recognized in 2018 by the College Board for having a large percentage of females enrolled in AP Computer Science. That resulted in 2018 in Medina-DeVilliers being invited to speak on a plenary panel for The College Board, A Dream Deferred: Teaching African American Students to Own Their Digital Futures.
“It is here I shared my own personal journey in the field of Computer Science and describe my ability to grow the participation rate of African American Students,” she shared. “Many of these students go on to take more courses in CS after high school. Bottom line: my successes are the rapid growth of CS course offerings coupled with the dominant enrollment of students from the various marginalized groups mentioned. I have done this with active recruitment, accessibility, approachability, personal example, and building trusting relationships.”
Being one of the largest high schools in Virginia, there are many groups Medina-DeVilliers could partner with, yet there were few examples of that happening when she first arrived. Her first step was to see this lack of partnerships and collaboration in CS, and math in general.
“I then proactively worked to partner with my school’s counseling department and administrators as well as various clubs and organizations,” said Medina-DeVilliers. “I was a single person taking some action to fill a void. With the school counselors, I encouraged them to talk to students who may have an interest in the sciences and technology. I provided them with printed information they could give to students, especially during registration periods. The result was the five-fold increase in CS courses and the overwhelming majority if registered students being minorities and females. I asked to speak to various groups in the school and educate students on the various ‘faces’ of computer scientists.”
“Sometimes the hardest things to notice are the groups now there,” she continued. “There was no Math Honor Society when I first came aboard. I took on the work to start and sponsor that group, as a further way to have minority students gain a new academic community, as well as show success gaining entry into an Honor Society. I then spearheaded a film series addressing social issues in the areas of Math and computer science.”
Medina-DeVilliers applied to become a a CSTA Equity Fellow to grow in computer science education and to use that growth to improve her school’s ACPS environment and marginalized student engagement. She wants to provide more opportunities for her students and best practices to educated them to be more successful. Finally, she wants to gain new perspectives on the growth of computer science for marginalized groups and the ability to aid and learn from fellow educators.
Learn more about the CSTA Equity Fellowship and its cohorts here.