According to the Louisiana State University Office of Research and Economic Development, all professions in Louisiana requiring an adept knowledge of computer science and mathematical skills are expected to see immense growth over the next decade. With this trend, it’s becoming increasingly more and more important for students to be given the opportunity to study computer science before entering high school or at the very least be given a chance to learn about such career fields.
Luckily, that’s where the LSU team behind BRBytes is working to address that educational gap, and according to this research article published by the University as a part of 2021’s Computer Science Education Week, more Louisiana students in grades K-12 will be given this very chance by summer 2022.
Recently, LSU’s BRBytes has been growing rapidly and thus has committed to expanding their total program to elementary students in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. This means that by Summer 2022, an additional 3,000 students from kindergarten through 6th grade will be taught about opportunities in computer science learning and careers. BRBytes has stated that they will first focus on bringing this equitable access to traditionally underserved elementary schools in which the large majority of students may come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or are underrepresented minorities.
In speaking on this expansion of the BRBytes program that doubles its capacity, Rose Kendrick, BRBytes program manager for LSU stated, “this expansion into lower grades connects with what we were already doing in middle schools and high schools. We were already planning and doing activities with younger siblings at family nights and such events in schools, so now we’re building on that to provide younger students with opportunities to learn about computer science in a fun and informal way, which will help us build toward bigger enrollments in later years, once those students reach middle school and high school.”
BRBytes is an LSU-sponsored organization that is a part of the national movement known as CSforALL, in which over a hundred diverse member organizations collaborate to raise awareness about computer science education and careers. This is accomplished by organizing more learning and teaching opportunities in public school systems across the United States. CSforALL’s mission reads that they aim “to make high-quality computer science an integral part of the educational experience of all K-12 students and teachers and to support student pathways to college and career success.”
What started as a computer science education initiative serving only a single parish had grown exponentially between 2018 and 2019 to 8 parishes, then to 14 parishes by fall 2020, and BRBytes is now currently active and operating in 22 parishes across Louisiana. In just 2021 alone, the program had doubled its number of enrolled students from 2,000 to 4,000 and had trained an additional 80 middle and high school teachers in summer 2021.
Juana Moreno is the team leader for BRBytes and a professor in the LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy with a joint appointment in the LSU Center for Computation & Technology. When speaking to LSU press, he emphasized the massive importance of building such close partnerships with schools and expanding their teacher trainings and professional developments so that educators can teach students about how to use technology and other resources such as computational thinking skills in order to access more advanced knowledge.
Professor Moreno remarked that if the program is truly striving for a more diverse workforce in computing, then the central aim has to go beyond only giving students access to cool tools. In speaking about BRBytes, he said, “we all know and understand the need for more computer science education, and while it’s great to give kids their own Chromebook, for example, there also has to be a teacher there to teach them how to use them. It’s generally easier to hand out tools than to train people, and that’s why we’re committed to expanding BRBytes to help more students, schools, and teachers.”
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