Prince George’s academies help crack the ‘code’ to computer careers -- Gazette.Net


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Computer programming is one of the fastest-growing professions, and Prince George’s County officials say they are working to keep up with demand through three new information technology academies.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 343,700 computer programming jobs in the United States in 2012, paying a median income of more than $74,000 per year, and computer-related professions are expected to increase by 18 percent over the next 10 years — 50 percent higher than the national job growth average.

Roxanne Emadi, grass-roots strategist for Seattle-based nonprofit Code.org, said most U.S. schools are not prepared for that growth.

“According to our estimates, nine out of 10 K-12 schools in the U.S. do not teach computer science at all,” Emadi said. “Even at schools that do offer it, only about 5 percent of students take the classes.”

Code.org, founded last year, lobbies for increased access to computer science education, as well as partnering with school systems to help provide computer programming classes.

In Prince George’s County Public Schools, three high schools — Fairmont Heights in Capitol Heights, DuVal in Lanham and Gwynn Park in Brandywine — have IT academies founded within the past three years, with curriculums designed to prepare students for college and careers in computer-related fields.

In addition, school system spokesperson ShaVon McConnell said High Point High School also offers computer science classes.

Three schools — Crossland High School in Temple Hills, Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro and Laurel High School — offer two-year Career Technology Education programs that include computer networking and computer repair courses, McConnell said.

McConnell said computer programming courses do not count toward a student’s math or science graduation requirement, but the CTE programs can be used for graduation credit in place of two years of a foreign language requirement.

Two additional IT academies are planned in the near future at Laurel High school in the 2015-16 school year and Friendly High School in Fort Washington in the 2016-17 school year.

In the academies, students learn programming languages, and how to create websites and software applications, or apps.

“We teach them multiple programming languages. We teach them HTML and JavaScript and CSS, which are used to design websites and web apps,” said Cullen White, an instructor in Fairmont Heights’ IT Academy.

White said the computer programming courses are currently only open to students in the IT Academy, but he hopes to secure funding to provide classes to the student body at-large.

Sophomore Natally Palma, 15, of Colmar Manor said she had never really considered herself much of a computer person before she decided to enroll in Fairmont Heights’ IT academy.

“At the beginning of the year, I was looking at the code, and it looked like gibberish,” Porta said. “I was so scared, I wondered, ‘Am I going to understand this?’ But we have teachers like Mr. White who constantly make sure you have the knowledge to keep going, and it wasn’t that hard afterwards.”

White said the knowledge his students are learning will be useful no matter what career path they take.

“You look at the way the world works now, and everything you do, no matter what you’re interested in, there’s an app for it,” White said. “So even if they don’t use it on a regular basis, they’ll be able to take advantage of this knowledge and leverage it for personal gain and for the betterment of society.”

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net