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York County districts collaborate to bring 'Computer Science for All'

Third grader Niki Ciconni, 8, works on computer science activities in Southern York County School District. The district will be one of four in the county to initiate Computer Science for All -- a unit that would integrate computer science with several subjects including math and language arts, in the spring of 2020.

When it comes to applying learned skills in the real world, everything is connected, said Rob Freil, director of curriculum and instruction for South Western School District.

"As adults, we don't say, 'I'm going to do math now for 45 minutes,'" but rather, Freil said, people see math throughout the day, in every part of their lives.

The same is true for computer science — a growing need in the workforce today that the state has recently supported with an increased focus on technical education and endorsement of K-12 Computer Science Teacher Association standards last year.

That's why Freil decided to join three other districts in developing a curriculum that would bridge the gap between computer science and traditional disciplines such as language arts, math, science and social studies.

Third graders Jassidy Pownall-Toledo, 9; Ava O'Connor, 9; Layla Riker, 8, and Isabelle Resch, 9, work on computer science activities in Southern York County School District. The district will be one of four in the county to initiate Computer Science for All -- a unit that would integrate computer science with several subjects including math and language arts, in the spring of 2020.

The Computer Science for All consortium, made up of Red Lion Area, South Western, South Eastern and Southern York County school districts, will be implementing an integrated unit for kindergarten through third grade in their respective districts this spring.

"Collaboration, we feel, is the key to be able to bring all the resources," said Kim Hughes, director of curriculum and instruction at Southern York.

More:Report: Pa. districts need more state funding for technical schools

Eric Wilson, the Red Lion Area director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, spearheaded the idea, noting that a lot of students are becoming disengaged at a young age but that integrating studies will help them find real-world connections.

For example, Red Lion is a mostly rural district, and farmers now apply pesticides with GPS, so they have to know how to code to direct where those components will go, he said.

“When he (Wilson) told me about this program they have developed with three other schools, I thought it’s a great opportunity that must be shared with as many students as possible," state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, said in a news release.

More:Wolf vetoes bill by Rep. Grove that would streamline approval of CTE programs

Phillips-Hill donated $5,000 to the consortium as part of the 2019 William Howard Day Award she received in October from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

That will cover a large amount of program costs, Wilson said, noting that "money's tight" but his district will introduce some equipment strategically each year as the program incorporates grades 4-6.

Joe Zahora explains a program while teaching third graders at Canadochly Elementary School Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. He is the sole technology teacher at the Eastern Area School District and travels to three schools to teach the class. Bill Kalina photo

Despite not receiving a $500,000 state PAsmart advancing grant for the program last year, officials from the four districts thought it was important to move forward.

“It’s what’s right for kids, it’s what’s best for students,” Wilson said.

The focus right now is the transfer of skills and student engagement, he said, but eventually he hopes to also see more attendance, fewer behavioral problems and integration of the ability.

Some districts in the consortium are applying for state PAsmart targeted grants to expand the program, and Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 is also applying for a PAsmart advancing grant for computer science for districts in Franklin, Adams and York counties.

The Computer Science for All consortium is part of a York County curriculum directors' network, which has 17 representatives, including York County School of Technology.

More:Students learn to code early at Eastern York

Northern York County and West Shore school districts are not in the network, but each of the county's remaining districts has a representative. York Suburban and Red Lion also have an elementary curriculum representative.

Third graders Wyatt Gross, 9, and Nathan Hobbs, 9, work on computer science activities in Southern York County School District. The district will be one of four in the county to initiate Computer Science for All -- a unit that would integrate computer science with several subjects including math and language arts, in the spring of 2020.

The plan is to eventually bring Computer Science for All to the rest of the county.

South Eastern Assistant Superintendent Nadine Sanders, who also oversees curriculum instruction and assessment, said she's impressed with the leadership in the districts across the network.

"One of the things I celebrate about York County is our collaboration," she said.