Teacher Voices: Broadening Student Participation in Computer Science Helps Meet Alabama’s Workforce Needs by Brenda Richardson, Computer Science Educator

By Brenda Richardson, M.Ed

As a ninth grade student in high school, I took my very first programming course in Texas. Twenty years later, I am teaching AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A (Java) in Decatur, Alabama. I knew then as I know now that computer science education is vital in unlocking future opportunities for our students, especially in this digital age.

As a first generation college graduate, I had the opportunity to attend the college of my choice as a Gates Millennium Scholar. A huge part of this life-changing step was due to the development of my problem solving abilities in high school CS-oriented courses. Computing has played an active role throughout my life, from funding my education, to advancing my child’s healthcare.

While working at Hewlett Packard, I was pursuing my Masters of Engineering when I decided to follow my heart instead and change majors. I earned a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction in Secondary Mathematics education so I could encourage future generations of women and minorities to pursue careers in STEAM fields.

After teaching mathematics for six and a half years, I approached my principal with the notion of offering computer science at our high school. What better way to get more students prepared for STEAM than to teach students programming languages and real world problem solving skills!

Beginning Our Computer Science Journey

Austin High School, as an A+ College Ready school, was offering free teacher training that summer. I immediately signed up. We offered AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) the following year and had 19 students enroll. Within one year, we have increased our enrollment by 131%. We now offer AP Computer Science A (Java) as well.

I think all students in Alabama should have access to quality computer science education. Our AHS students recognize their need for these higher level skills and their potential future value, as shown by our enrollment numbers. I am certain that our students in other schools across Alabama want to learn more about computing and its relevance to their lives, but as a state, we need to make it a priority.

The first step is to assure equitable access to computer science education in every Alabama high school. When you walk into my classroom, you see a diverse population of students, representative of our student population as a whole. I think it is extremely powerful when students can look around their class and see such diversity. We are breaking CS stereotypes at Austin High!

Future Engineers and Technology Experts

Austin High School has just been selected as an Amazon Future Engineer school and we will be implementing the use of the Edhesive curriculum next year for both AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A (Java).

Great things are happening for our students in Northern Alabama and industry is yearning for better-prepared students for vacant high paying jobs in our area. With more technology companies moving into Alabama, we need to have our students better prepared for those jobs. A quality computer science education that leads to credentialing opportunities is exactly the means to do it!

Austin High student brings home first prize in Governor’s App Challenge

Brenda Richardson is an AP Computer Science and Mathematics Teacher at Austin High School in Decatur, Alabama. She has earned a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction and graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2007.

Infographics: Edhesive