One of the most anticipated high school events of the spring is the FIRST Robotics Competition at VCU's Siegel Center. It makes for great pictures, as well as Wide World of Sports -style examples of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Reporter Chris Dovi followed Richmond Public School's Thomas Jefferson High School team through the competition this year. And through working on the story, he learned that RPS doesn't offer any computer-programming classes, whereas surrounding school districts do. The closest the city comes is at Richmond Technical Center, where students take CAD — computer-aided design — classes.
Thirty years ago, as a high school sophomore, I took a BASIC computer programming class at Monacan High School — and that was two years before Steve Jobs rolled out his first Mac in 1984.
As an expert says in Dovi's piece, "Not offering even an introductory programming class is a disservice to Richmond Public Schools graduates. It's a disparity that exacerbates what state and local schools leaders already acknowledge is a gap between knowledge on state Standards of Learning tests and what it means to be prepared for college. It mirrors the sort of national statistics that show African-Americans entering fields of computing — one of the fastest growing areas of employment — at an abysmal rate. Of all computer-science degrees awarded at U.S. universities in 2010, 3.4 percent went to African-Americans."
While there has been an emphasis put on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics education) from the federal and state governments, as well as the recent establishment of a STEM academy at the RPS Technical Center, the academy has only two tracks: sports medicine and engineering.
Last fall, Richmonder Joel Erb of INM United and UR senior Remo Kommnick started a program called TechHatch ( techhat.ch ) , which will run again this summer (application deadline June 4). The program is a teen technology incubator where they and other mentors, including computer- science college professors, work with the students to help them develop a technology start-up.
I hope other creative technology minds and those at VUU, VCU and VSU are reading this and will find a way to help RPS offer this essential computer-programming coursework.