Computer science classroom programs helped by grant

The C Spire Foundation made a $1 million commitment Thursday to assist school districts across Mississippi with implementing computer science programs in the classroom.

One of the primary objectives of the C Spire Foundation is to support community efforts to improve educational opportunities in Mississippi, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “In all our efforts, our goal is to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve and help students achieve their dreams of success through STEM-related educational initiatives,” said Foundation Executive Director Beth C. Pickering.

The commitment comes as the Mississippi State Legislature reconvened this week and is expected to consider legislation in the 2021 session to give elementary, middle and high school students equal access to computer science curriculum in the classroom.

A grassroots effort to win legislative passage last year was cut short by the COVID-19 virus outbreak after a successful House of Representatives vote on a computer science bill in mid-March.  The resulting global health pandemic closed most of Mississippi’s 884 public and charter K-12 schools and left many of the state’s 442,627 students with no option but virtual distance learning from home.

However, state lawmakers provided a boost to the grassroots effort last July with two new laws that set aside $200 million to help 151 school districts purchase more than 325,000 computer devices and other tools that enable students to continue learning from home after widespread school closures caused by the public health crisis.

“Now more than ever, we need to be equipping all of our children to master the digital tools of the 21st century and providing them with educational opportunities to hone their knowledge and skills on the building blocks of meaningful and relevant learning that will form the foundation of our state’s economic future,” said C Spire President and CEO Hu Meena.

Meena believes exposing all students to computer science in public schools will enhance education and job opportunities so they can pursue their hopes and dreams for success in life.  “Lawmakers, students, teachers, parents and business leaders really understand and embrace the importance of this moment for our children and our state’s future,” he added.

“C Spire looks forward to working with Gov. Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn, as well as the entire Mississippi House and Senate, in providing equal access to computer science education for all children in our state,” Meena said.

Workers with a background in computer science are in high demand and short supply in Mississippi.  Employers currently have over 1,475 unfilled jobs due to the serious shortage of trained, qualified IT and computing workers.  The average starting salary is almost double the statewide average.  In 2019, only 327 students took the AP computer science exam according to code.org, a STEM education advocacy group.

“Getting computer science in all Mississippi classrooms represents a tremendous opportunity to give our young people exposure to the fundamentals necessary for their future success in the workforce,” said C Spire CTO Carla Lewis, noting that computer science teaches critical thinking, computational and problem solving skills that benefit all students and future employers.

C Spire has worked closely with lawmakers to refine the legislation that would help make computer science available in all schools fully by the 2024-2025 academic year.  Many districts and schools have made progress and will not need to make changes while others will need to boost teacher training and update courses to the latest curriculum.

“We’re committed to helping all of our schools overcome any barriers that might stand in the way of offering computer science in classrooms,” Lewis said, adding that C Spire is offering to help identify solutions for more teacher training and distance learning.  Today, only 48 percent of the state’s high schools teach computer science.

C Spire has been heavily involved in efforts to promote computer science education in Mississippi since 2015 with coding challenges, coding academies, pilot accelerated degree programs and other efforts designed to inspire and encourage students to consider pursuing academic degrees or professional careers in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields.

The grassroots computer science education effort is designed to move communities forward with a focus on workforce development, broadband access and technology innovation. To learn more about the need for computer science education in K-12 classrooms or to get involved in the effort, text FUTURE to 50457 or go to www.ourMSfuture.com.

C Spire Foundation news release

C Spire IT employees help high school students during a 2019 coding challenge. The company’s non-profit charitable arm is making a $1 million commitment to help school districts across Mississippi with implementing computer science programs in the classroom. (Provided photo)

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