Keystone Oaks senior Alish Chhetri has been fascinated with computer science ever since he was a nine year old boy who loved playing Minecraft, Pokemon and Mario Brothers on his video game console.
“My love of video games led to me taking free online courses to learn scratch coding to create games, such as Tic-Tac-Toe and Connect Four,” Alish said. “I also couldn’t learn enough about operating systems, such as IOS for iPhone devices and Microsoft’s windows operating system.”
Students like Alish have helped drive a dramatic increase in participation in computer science courses at Keystone Oaks High School since 2017, when the first computer science class was added to the schedule.
The push to add computer science courses was driven, in large part, by teachers and administrators, including Superintendent Dr. Stropkaj, who participated in local and national conferences to learn about the importance of computer science courses in high school as well as how to integrate concepts into other areas of the curriculum.
“The growth in the number of students signing up for computer science classes has been incredible,” said High School computer science teacher Kevin Gallagher. “We’ve gone from 24 students in the first year to 135 students enrolled in computer science courses this school year.”
At Keystone Oaks, 45 percent of the students enrolled in computer science classes this year are female and 32 percent are minority students.
According to Code.org, 67 percent of all new STEM jobs are in computing, and computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the United States. Women who try AP Computer Science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in it and black and latino students are seven times more likely to pursue a computer science degree.
This is another major reason why Mr. Gallagher and Dr. Shannon Varley, Keystone Oaks’ Director of Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment and Staff Development, worked to add computer science courses at the High School.
“Computer science is more than just writing lines of code, which is the perception that the general public has had of coding careers,” Dr. Varley said. “There is a lot of creativity and imagination in computer science and we wanted to give our students the opportunity to learn everything that is made possible by computer science.”
Alish could not agree more.
“The thing I enjoy most about the computer science courses I’ve taken is the creativity that you can bring to every project,” he said. “Oftentimes, the biggest challenge is limiting your grand ideas to something you can code within the given time period.”
One of Alish’s most memorable projects was a “Clean the House” game that he designed last year. The objective was to click through different rooms in the house and pick up anything that was misplaced. The game had three settings - easy, medium and hard - and the amount of time you had to clean the house would change with each setting.
As he prepares to graduate and pursue a degree in computer science, Alish encourages any underclassmen considering computer science to embrace their creativity.
“It's a wonderful feeling to create a program you are proud of and that feeling is exponentially more powerful as the code and programs get increasingly complicated,” he added.
Another benefit of computer science classes, adds Mr. Gallagher, is that a significant amount of teamwork is necessary and that helps students’ develop their ability to collaborate and communicate effectively.
That, of course, has been more challenging this year. But, it has also provided an opportunity for teachers and students to learn to overcome obstacles that are beyond their control.
“The students are thriving,” Mr. Gallagher said. “My ability to provide feedback is off the chart in a positive way and that is definitely helping the students continue to exceed in their coursework.”