Computer science (CS) is widely recognized as a key STEM discipline that will lead to enriched study and career opportunities. According to a seminal and still widely cited 2015 Gallup and Google poll, 91% of U.S. parents want their children to learn computer science. However, only 40% of schools teach it. Critics claim that it is mainly the more affluent schools that offer computer science courses, thus denying those who attend less well-funded schools a chance to learn necessary coding skills.
This is particularly true within the schools where Minneapolis Beacons Clubs are located. Almost 4,000 K-12 students participate in the Beacons afterschool program which focuses on reaching underserved youth and providing activities that emphasize youth voice, celebrate students’ cultures and promote learning. STEM education is particularly critical for Beacons students, half of whom routinely test below grade level in these subjects. 92% of Beacons students are youth of color, and 85% receive free and reduced lunch benefits.
According to the Pew Research Center, low-income Americans (like Beacons Club youth and families) are less likely to have computers, tablets or broadband internet at home. This leads to a “homework gap” where children fall behind their more affluent peers because of their lack of digital literacy.
Enter TPT’s CODEKids program, which addressed these issues in three ways. First, the program provided age-appropriate coding skills (MIT-developed PBS KIDS Scratch Jr program) that helped children gain computer science literacy that may have otherwise been unavailable. Second, educator training around technology built programmatic sustainability. Finally, providing the Clubs with tablets ensured that youth were able to use their new technology skills in other STEM-related aspects of their schooling, like homework and project completion. This is particularly relevant in light of the Department of Commerce’s research showing that employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow by 8.9% from 2014 to 2024.
The CODEKids initiative also leveraged TPT’s success working with Beacons Clubs’ middle school population over the previous two years around general STEM topics, and created sustainability by offering programming for a younger cohort of Beacons students (grades K-3).