By Matt Alonzo
Over a decade ago, when I commenced teaching computer science, the recruitment landscape was barren of strategies to attract students to my class. Computer science existed on the periphery, with only those already self-taught in programming expressing interest. Consequently, enrollment was restricted to students with extracurricular exposure to computer science, perpetuating a lack of diversity in the class.
Recognizing the need for intentional efforts to recruit students with equity in mind, I observed a stark disparity between the demographics of my computer science classes and the broader school population. A closer examination revealed that those in the class had pre-existing access to computer science, courtesy of encouragement from a family member, friend, or acquaintance.
To broaden exposure, I initiated a challenge for colleagues in the math department to integrate an Hour of Code activity into their curriculum. However, I encountered resistance, discovering that the apprehension toward computer science extended to educators. The subsequent year, collaboration with school librarians facilitated a more widespread participation in the Hour of Code activity, yet some teachers remained hesitant.
Acknowledging the need for a more comprehensive approach, a colleague and I organized a computer science mini-conference in the math department, held on the Monday and Tuesday preceding Thanksgiving. During these sessions, students engaged in two 45-minute computer science activities led by math teachers, student leaders, librarians, and external groups from Washington University. The primary objective was to amplify exposure to computer science for all students, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds.
While the mini-conference significantly impacted student interest in computer science, further action was imperative. The subsequent year’s mini-conference aimed to address this gap by leveraging students from advanced placement (AP) classes to lead activities. Student-led sessions became integral, offering a dual benefit. On the facilitator side, students fulfilling service requirements experienced personal growth and the gratification of showcasing the possibilities of coding. On the participant side, students witnessed peers like themselves elucidating concepts, reinforcing the belief that success in computer science was attainable.
By orchestrating this event at the school level, we conveyed the message that computer science is both significant and accessible for all students. The involvement of school leaders underscored the notion that every student has a place in the technology career landscape.
The essence of the computer science mini-conference extends beyond merely increasing enrollment; its core mission is to empower every student to declare confidently, “I can do this.” It signifies the commitment of educators to join their students as co-learners in an ever-evolving technological landscape. The conference serves as a platform for teachers to model continuous learning, essential in a rapidly advancing technological era.
As we reflect on the transformative impact of intentional recruitment strategies in fostering equity within computer science education, let this be an inspiration to all educators and advocates. The journey to a more inclusive classroom is ongoing and multifaceted, requiring creativity, adaptability, and a commitment to dismantling barriers. Each educational environment is unique, and therein lies the opportunity for educators, administrators, and advocates to explore and implement tailored strategies that resonate with their community. Whether it’s through mentorship programs, community outreach, or innovative curriculum design, let us all embark on the mission to make computer science accessible to every student. By sharing our successes and learning from our challenges, we contribute to a collective effort that extends beyond our individual classrooms, shaping a future where the field of computer science truly reflects the diversity of our society. Together, let’s continue the journey toward an equitable and inclusive computer science education for all.
About the Author
Matt Alonzo is a computer science teacher in St. Louis, Missouri, who has been teaching at Parkway North High School since 2003. In 2009, he was tasked with teaching the sole computer science class within the math department. Through this experience, Matt discovered that the computational thinking practices used in computer science education are crucial for all students, yet not all students had access to this class. In an endeavor to eliminate the barriers hindering students from learning computer science, Matt has expanded the CS program to encompass four CS courses, initiated a Computer Science Honors Society, coordinated and executed a computer science mini-conference to provide every student in the school with an opportunity to participate in a CS activity, and has contributed to the growth of CS programs in the district’s other three high schools. Additionally, Matt serves as a facilitator for code.org in their CSA and CSP curriculum.