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CodeCrew's NSF grant to further computer science education in Tennessee

By Aishwarya Airy - Data Reporter

November 03, 2021, 01:43pm CDT

Meka Egwuekwe, executive director, CodeCrew CodeCrew

A Memphis-based nonprofit will share in a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide computer science education to children at nearly half the school districts in Tennessee.

CodeCrew, a local technology-focused organization that trains children and adults — particularly from underserved communities — will receive a portion of an approximately $1 million grant to further computer science education.

“We’re tremendously excited to receive this NSF grant,” said Meka Egwuekwe, CodeCrew's executive director. “Not only because it’s our first time receiving an NSF grant, but it allows us to reach up to 70 school districts across the state of Tennessee [and] help them implement computer science education for their students.”

CodeCrew collaborated with longtime partners, CSforALL, a New York-based organization that advocates for computer science education for all kids, for this grant. While CSforALL was the lead NSF applicant, CodeCrew and a few other organizations worked on the application as co-principal investigators.

The grant will help CodeCrew employ the Strategic CSforALL Resource and Implementation Planning Tool (SCRIPT), a framework by CSforALL to guide school districts in implementing computer science education across Tennessee.

Beginning in the spring of 2022, CodeCrew will conduct workshops to help educators, district administrators, and school leaders plan the implementation of computer science education. Workshops will include collaborative exercises including those aimed at vision- and goal-setting for K-12 computer science education implementation plans.

As the amount of technology in the lives of children is increasing, Egwuekwe believes computer science knowledge has become "foundational to modern education,” and with more jobs being tech-oriented, it will help the children of Tennessee.

“For our kids in Tennessee to be competitive, it’s important that they get access to computer science education, computational thinking, that approach to solving problems,” he said, “so that they can remain competitive for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

A previously held teacher training session by CodeCrew CodeCrew

Employment in computer and information technology occupations is set to increase faster than the average for other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a projected growth rate of 13% from 2020 to 2030.

According to a 2021 study by Gallup, commissioned by Amazon Future Engineer, taking a school-based class is the most common way students said they learned about computer science. However, the study also highlighted that students, particularly from underserved and historically underrepresented communities, such as Black, Hispanic, and low-income students, lack computer science learning opportunities in school and exposure to the field more broadly in their lives.

Egwuekwe said they are particularly excited because of the focus the NSF grant will have on rural districts and diversity with respect to access to computer science education. Of the nearly 2,000 kids CodeCrew serves weekly, 91% are Black and Hispanic youth, and 47% are girls.

“We’re not left behind in the sense of being consumers of technology,” he said. “We are being left behind in terms of the educational opportunities and the skills to be producers of technology, and that’s where the engines of our economies are going to revolve around.”

The divide is evident as there are still ZIP codes in Memphis where 80% or more of households don’t have broadband internet, Egwuekwe noted. The divide often feeds itself, he said, with the narrative that computer science education is just for white and Asian males.

“We at CodeCrew are showing kids and adults that it’s not rocket science, that this is something that they can do too. They need to see it, see themselves in it,” he said. "And then they need this access to the education to learn it, and then they’ll run with it and do it."

Check out the Memphis Business Journals article here


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