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University of Miami Computer Science Student Fuels “Accelerate Tech” Pilot Program

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Every Saturday morning University of Miami freshman Anthony Davenport leaves his residence hall on the Coral Gables campus and gets on the Miami-Dade County Metrorail in route to the Brownsville neighborhood. Davenport, a freshman computer science major from Washington Township, New Jersey is the first facilitator for a new computer science “Accelerate Tech” pilot program that has been incorporated into the Saturday school programming at Earlington Heights Elementary School.

The participating students in the program took a computational thinking assessment which informed what version of a computer science curriculum they are receiving.  The majority of the students are engaged in the Google Computer Science (CS) First curriculum that uses the Scratch block-based coding language to introduce computer science while others may be placed into a JavaScript based curriculum. Dr. Marcus BrightDr. Marcus Bright

The pilot is geared towards accelerating the preparedness level of youth to gain skillsets that will make them more economically viable in the emerging tech economy and ecosystem that has been flourishing in South Florida. In today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, having the skills and knowledge to pursue a career in tech can open a wealth of opportunities and provide a stable and fulfilling career path.

The Miami Herald recently published an article about how anchor higher education institutions in the area like Florida International University, Florida Memorial University, and Miami Dade College among others are expanding their programming in an effort to better prepare locals for jobs in the region’s booming tech sector.

For more students to be prepared to step into these programs at the post-secondary education level; there needs to be more intentional programming put in place at the K-12 level in areas like computer science. Two of the primary barriers to the initiation and implementation of computer science in schools in areas like Brownsville are the need for computer science content and the availability of instructors who have the knowledge base to properly guide student development and learning in computer science.

College students who are majoring in computer science and computer engineering often possess the competency necessary to help K-12 students navigate through computer coding programs.  The primary challenge with the coupling of computationally talented college students with K-12 schools is a logistical one. These students often have busy schedules during the week with classes and other activities and their campuses may be located a significant distance away from a given school that needs their services.

This is the case for Davenport and Earlington Heights Elementary School, but the Saturday school model that is being implemented is a potential blueprint for expanded flexibility and accessibility for schools to be able to incorporate fresh content and modes of instruction.

A great deal of credit for the installation of the pilot program at Earlington Heights Elementary is due to the visionary Principal Jackson Nicholas and gifted Assistant Principal Isahuri Cathey among others at the school. They recognized the need and valued this kind of program and acted immediately to secure the services of students like Davenport.

Davenport was first exposed to computer science when he went to a robotics camp in middle school that his mother put him in. He attended the camp the first week and loved it so much that he signed up for a second week. He particularly enjoyed doing the coding that was required for the robots to move and it opened up the world of computer science to the point where it laid the foundation for his eventual selection of it as his college major when he matriculated to the University of Miami.

The excitement and enlightenment that he experienced as a middle school student is a large part of what motivates him to take the two-hour roundtrip every Saturday morning. He wants to help to facilitate this experience for the next generation of students. Davenport expressed that “with computer science, there is so much that you can do. Not everyone knows or understands that. I want to expose younger students to the idea that you can take anything that you have in your mind and make it happen with this tool.”

Through his stellar service, Davenport has transcended into another level of significance by helping to open new tech career pathways for students who may otherwise have not been exposed to them. His actions reflect that he understands his influential role and that it can go beyond his individual success. He can use his expertise to create opportunities for many others.

By initiating and investing in programs like this one at Earlington Heights Elementary School, we can do more to ensure that our workforce is equipped with the skills and abilities needed to drive innovation and create new tech-oriented solutions to societal problems. By expanding access to tech education and creating clear career pathways, we can help to build a more equitable society and provide increased opportunities for upward mobility.

Dr. Marcus Bright is a social impact facilitator and the author of Brighter Ways Forward: Reflections on Sports, Tech, and Socioeconomic Mobility

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