Turning the tech tide

CESA 7, Microsoft team up on pilot program

Posted on Apr 30, 2020 :: Cover Story
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Technology Staff Writer

The need to fill information technology jobs — both now and in the future — is real. To help prepare students for a future in coding and computer science — and bolstered by a $100,000 grant —Microsoft and CESA 7 are teaming up on the Computer Science Talent Ecosystem Youth — Brown County Pilot.

The new effort is funded and supported by Microsoft TechSpark, an initiative aimed at fostering economic opportunity, skills and employability in Wisconsin.

CESA 7 Agency Administrator Jeff Dickert met with Michelle Schuler of TechSpark Wisconsin, who pitched the idea that “if we all work together, we could beef up and help the computer science industry.” CESA 7 was considered an ideal lead for the program since it covers 38 school districts in Northeast Wisconsin.

“The CS Talent Ecosystem in Brown County is important because it aims to help all students in the county get access to computer science, a critical skill for youth that can open doors to opportunities in the digital economy,” Schuler says.

The need to fill more computer jobs will only grow in the next five to 10 years, Dickert says.

“We know in Brown County there are 2,000 coding or computer science-related jobs available right now,” he says. “In the New North, there’s 28,000 computer or coding jobs open right now, and they’re hunting for people.”

But while some students are getting more interested in STEM, Dickert says, “we haven’t really intentionally talked to kids about computer science careers. We only currently have about 12 kids in apprenticeships (in computer science) in Brown County. We hope to get that up to 100.”

The pilot and funding will support an advisory board, which will create a framework that outlines how to bring more computer science courses to Brown County. That will include an approach to building new supports, resources and capacities across Brown County schools, including making computer science training accessible to teachers and giving students ways to gain exposure to computer science. Dickert also hopes to hire a part-time computer science guidance counselor to guide students on their pathways.

In addition to training students, however, training teachers so they feel confident teaching computer science will be vital, Dickert says. “Some schools are ahead of others in that regard. Most schools are not doing that currently in all grade levels from K-12.”

CESA 7 plans to put a plan and timeline together during the next 18 months with public and private schools in Brown County, Dickert says. The plan will use Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, where a professional trained in computer science teaches side by side with a teacher. Teachers benefit from the experience and eventually lead computer science classes on their own. One school in Brown County, Denmark High School, has used the program with success for the past several years.

According to a LinkedIn article Schuler wrote last year, TEALS is now in 60 percent of high schools in Brown and Outagamie counties. Together with Code.org, more than 125 teachers in 10 districts have been trained to offer computer science education.

The pilot program will partner with local groups such as the Brown County STEM Innovation Center and the Einstein Project. To sustain the program, they will seek out more grants and are consulting with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. for more advice. Dickert remains confident the program will find additional support.

“When you have great partners, such as Microsoft, you start getting momentum. It never hurts having the stamp of approval from Microsoft,” he says.

Both Dickert and Schuler believe the program is sustainable past its pilot stage.

“Our goal is that the ecosystem approach can become a model for CESAs across Wisconsin to help bring computer science to more students across the state,” Schuler says. “With CESA 7, we’re doing this by pooling our resources and expertise to help county schools access new supports, resources and build capacities so that teachers have access to computer science training and students can benefit from robust computer science programming.”

Once the program is up and running in Brown County, Dickert expects to expand it to the other five counties that make up CESA 7. “We’re going to learn some lessons; we’ll take that model and expand it,” he says. “There are 11 other CESAs in the state. The hope is that they can utilize this model. That’s what we expect by 2025.”

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