Angela Chavez teaches at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s K-12 Computer Science Virtual Academy, the first of its kind in her district. Code.org provided Angela with a pathway into computer science, and she received further professional development through the Infosys Foundation’s Pathfinders Institute and, currently, through LAUSD’s inaugural CS Cadre. As a Girls Who Code club facilitator, she instills the love of CS in her students and prepares them to continue on educational pathways that will transform them into the CS leaders of tomorrow. Angela was a finalist for California’s 2020 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and LAUSD’s 2021 Teacher of the Year.
Angela believes that quality education begins with a strong understanding of how children learn and the consistent application of student-centered practices. She tries to be responsive to student needs as a starting point to bridge the divide for student populations who have historically been underrepresented in CS. For students of lower socioeconomic status, that means ensuring reliable access to technology, providing outreach and CS learning experiences in spaces where few such opportunities have existed in the past, and empowering her own students to become CS leaders who will further the cause of CS equity in their education and their careers.
As a Girls Who Code facilitator, a classroom teacher, and a CS leader within her school and district, Angela has supported a diverse range of students, including special education students, English language learners, unhoused students, youth in the foster care system, students of color, and female students. When performing outreach and recruitment for her classes and clubs, she’s focused and intentional in helping those underserved populations get their foot in the door of CS.
“Access,” says Angela, “became the key to student engagement.” She strives to provide numerous entryways for computer science, allowing her students to approach the subject in the context that’s most comfortable for them. In addition to hosting a Girls Who Code Club and a lunchtime robotics club for all genders, she transitioned to continuing the work during distance learning at the height of the pandemic, by partnerin with CS Is Elementary to host a virtual Family Code Night. The expansion of virtual learning in the early days of the pandemic enabled all interested students to participate. Angela was thrilled to have the opportunity to share computer science with a new group of students, and her existing CS students loved sharing what they were learning with their families.
It’s not the only time that Angela has witnessed the powerful growth of CS when her students become CS advocates in turn. Recently, her Girls Who Code club hosted their first-ever fully student-led coding event, setting up stations during recess to introduce students in grades 2–5 to different aspects of coding.
The event included unplugged activities to share some of the basic language and ideas behind coding, plus opportunities for students to learn to code on devices and even explore some basic robotics.
Angela has also worked hard to integrate computer science into all subject areas at her school. She advocated tirelessly for schoolwide participation in Hour of Code, which helped to build awareness of coding platforms among teachers as well as students. Angela knows that her efforts are bearing fruit as more students come into her CS classes with a greater base of starting knowledge about coding principles, allowing her to spend less time introducing CS to the class and more time applying their knowledge in varied and exciting ways.
As a CSTA Equity Fellow, Angela says, “I would love to develop my knowledge of CS integration within the curriculum so that it becomes more seamless in my instruction.” Although computer science is its own subject, she wants it to feel like a “fluid and natural” part of core content areas, particularly so that students from underrepresented populations will have as many jumping-on points to computer science as possible. She says, “I am teaching at a newly established Computer Science Virtual Academy, and I think there is great opportunity to bring all that I learn back to my team to build teacher training and capacity.”
Drawing on her experiences with the Girls Who Code club, Angela also dreams of mentoring students to take on leadership roles to bring their peers into computer science. She’s found that once students are brought into computer science, “they keep asking for more,” and she hopes to use her time as an Equity Fellow to discover new ways to share CS with her students and develop their boundless potential as CS leaders now and in the future.
Angela says, “In many ways, I feel like I have so much yet to learn.” She can’t wait to continue that learning with her cohort of Equity Fellows.