1 of 2
Demetria Richardson, a fifth-grade teacher at Bellevue Elementary, talks about the positive effect computer programming has had on her students (photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.).
2 of 2
Five members of Richmond City Council have been dubbed the Jedi Council because of their support for computer literacy. They are (from left) Parker Agelasto, Jon Baliles, Michelle R. Mosby, Cynthia Newbille and Kathy Graziano (photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.)
The drums thundered and the brass heralded as the John Williams theme from Star Wars soared under the great dome of the Science Museum of Virginia. The occasion this morning was the beginning of National Computer Science Education Week in Virginia, the public announcement of a school devoted to computer sciences, a wide-ranging regional collaboration between school systems and companies, and CodeVa’s Jedi Prom tonight at the museum. The event is to assist in raising funds to teach teachers how to better inform students about computer programming.
Chris Dovi, a former colleague here at the magazine and the son of a rocket scientist, deftly connected this anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor with the Dec. 9, 1902, birth of U.S Navy Rear Adm. Grace Hopper. Already a college professor at Vassar and in her mid-30s, in 1943 she went into the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES).
As Lt. Hopper (j.g.) she was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation team at Harvard University, where she designed a machine that, as the PBS summary of her life says, made “fast, difficult calculations for tasks such as laying mine fields." With Howard Aiken, she created the first programmable digital computer — the Mark I. Her work, among other things, created the path for the Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL). Hopper made software possible. Here she is at age 80 on a 1986 David Letterman program speaking about her ground-breaking career and holding her own with Letterman’s humor.
Hopper knew her accomplishments were making history, but she was most proud of passing that knowledge along to younger people to see what they might come up with for the future. Likewise, 13 area school systems have united to form a regional high school emphasizing computer science. The school, for the time being, goes by Richmond Regional School for Innovation-CodeRVA, and will open next school year with a class of about 80 ninth-grade students. The location is still to be determined.
Computer literacy — that is, knowing how to program them, not just type on one — is of vital importance in the contemporary world. Margaret K. Mayer, senior director of technology in marketing and identity platforms for CapitalOne, addressed how computer literacy is equal in importance to other liberal arts disciplines. The discipline and critical thinking needed for computer work blends into other skills, such as math and language. Demetria Richardson, a fifth-grade teacher at Bellevue Elementary, attested to the improvements made by her students due to their involvement in computer programming. The enthusiasm of the kids certainly helped make the case.
Right now, less than 10 percent of Virginia’s public school students receive any computer skills training. CodeVa has collaborated with local and state government representatives and business leaders in promoting the value of bringing this skill into school curricula. In 2013, an “Hour of Code” event became a way to introduce programming into the lives of schoolchildren.
Five members of Richmond City Council’s nine were re-christened the Jedi Council, and as such proclaimed the “vital importance of computers and information technology” to the community.
So school will be in session for young people to learn and carry on Grace Hopper’s legacy.
The Star Wars theme, by the way, was played by the Douglas Southall Freeman High School marching band named, appropriately for this particular occasion, the Rebel Brigade.