Code pink

Students in the In Real Life after-school program pose with one of their projects. From left to right: Ayla Dunham, Alex Mottershead, Lauren Cox, Sidney Mottershead.
Students in the In Real Life after-school program pose with one of their projects. From left to right: Ayla Dunham, Alex Mottershead, Lauren Cox, Sidney Mottershead.


“What did you learn in school today?”

“Nothing.”

If this sounds familiar to you, you probably have a teen or tween. The good news is, it’s not “nothing” that your child is learning every day in our Asheville City Schools (ACS) 180 days of the year. From Lego-robotics to coding to iPads in the classroom, our teachers incorporate technology into the everyday. But there is a lot more that needs to be done, and schools can’t make these changes alone. We need our community to engage if we are to keep pace with this rapidly changing word.

I agree with the campaign of Marietta Cameron, associate professor of computer science at UNC Asheville, to “Picture yourself in technology,” which promotes successful female role models in tech careers. But let’s be clear — recruitment of women in the tech industry has to start way earlier than college. I urge parents to first familiarize themselves with the current science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program offerings that are accessible to all students (not just girls) in ACS. Thanks to donors and incredible community partnerships, the Asheville City Schools Foundation is currently funding a variety of innovative programs to give teachers the time and professional development to keep our children on the cutting edge of technology.

Did you know that Brian Randall’s third-grade English Language Learners class at Hall Fletcher Elementary is using iPads to create multiplatform video presentations to learn content vocabulary and concepts?

What about Claxton Elementary? Teacher Kimberly Eggett received training to learn about highly effective iPad applications to improve higher-level thinking skills and learning with these technologies. On Dec. 12, she will collaborate with teacher John Pruett’s fifth grade girls to work through “My Robotic Friends” lesson and Google Hangout with founder of Women’s Coding Collective, Susan Buck.

“Dad, I want a robot for Christmas.” These words came from Rachel Buys, a participant in ACSF’s after-school program, In Real Life, at Asheville Middle School, where teacher Betsy Ray inspires a group of girls to work as a team to build robots and compete in the First Lego League competition. This was the fourth year that this “Girl Power!” Girl Scouts Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont group has competed, and the students represent one of the few all-girl teams that attend the competition. Ray says, “There are a hundred reasons why we are losing our girls in the STEM subjects … from the lack of female role models to after-school sports conflicts.”

Teacher Jonathan Moody teaches computer science at Asheville High School, and last year taught a coed coding program after school called “Be Web Awesome” through IRL at Asheville Middle. IRL Campus Director Travis Herbert says, “Lots of kids are asking about game design. All of the technology-based sessions we’ve offered have been in high demand and consistently fill up each semester. We need more partners and volunteers who know tech.” Moody will be conducting another after-school coding program this winter in IRL and sees it as a pathway for middle school students to get familiar with coding before entering high school.

At the high school level, the Career Technical Education department can provide students with a diversity of technology-based courses from graphic design and printmaking to medical forensics, gaming and, yes, even coding. Nancy Oliver teaches students Game Art Design, where they look at the history of games and how they are constructed. Then they create some simple computer games using GameMaker.

The list goes on. These are just a few examples of opportunities that are available to today’s students. But technology moves at a blazingly fast pace, and there is much more we can and should be doing: building connections with our local tech community; getting the word out so parents who are aware of the opportunities in school today will help their children have a leg up in tomorrow’s job market; and yes, encouraging our daughters (and sons) to plug into tech programs. I invite you to learn more by touring our schools and see hands-on what is going on in today’s classrooms. Then, make a connection, volunteer or make your own creative contribution toward increasing technology in our schools.

Upcoming Events at ACS

Tour of Excellence

If you are a parent, a woman working in a field of technology or just a concerned citizen interested in the education of local students, join in the sixth annual Tour of Excellence on Friday, Jan. 24, from 8-11:45 a.m. Ride the bus and get the facts about how our schools are working to provide access to the latest technologies.

Organizers invite participatns to engage in dialogue, and help ask and answer questions that could help shape our young girls and boys into technologically savvy (and employable) women and men.  Registration is required at acsf@acsf.org.
Hour of Coding

Participate by volunteering in the “Hour of Coding” that will take place the week of Monday-Friday, Dec. 9-13. Over 719 local students have already been signed up to participate in this nationwide event designed to demystify “code.” Twenty volunteers are needed. Contact kate@acsf.org.

To learn more about the “Hour of Coding,” visit csedweek.org.

— Erica Bell is the director of development at the Asheville City Schools Foundation and can be contacted via email at erica@acsf.org.

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