St. Charles High School receives AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award

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How many times is the computer genius in movies and TV shows a woman? In recent memory, there’s Shuri in “Black Panther,” there’s a girl with a dragon tattoo, and a couple who got pulled over and caught fire in a period drama set in the 1980s depicting the beginnings of Silicon Prairie in Texas. Overall, the person who cracks the code using coding is a guy.

But there are female computing pioneers – Dona Bailey, Annie Easley, Grace Hooper, Ada Lovelace, Marsha R. Williams among others – who have paved the way for women in computing and STEM fields while serving of models. Like those at St. Charles High School, a school that recently won a 2021 College Board Women’s Computing Diversity Award for Advanced Placement (AP). The award was given in recognition of expanding girls’ access to the AP Computer Science Principles classroom and their commitment to the subject. St. Charles is one of 760 schools to be recognized for this achievement.

Terence Stone, left, a computer science teacher at St. Charles High School, talks to students in his AP Computer Science Principles class.

AP Computer Science Principles introduces students to the fundamental concepts of the field and challenges them to explore how computing and technology can impact the world. “The College Board and industry noticed that it was dominated and represented by one sex of one race. They wanted to change that,” said Terence Stone, a computer science professor at St. Charles. “They want the industry to represent what the country looks like. Principles is a class for everyone. There are no prerequisites and students have the option of taking the AP exam or not.

At the beginning of the year in Principles, students learn to send and receive a message by computer. From there, they get into understanding machine languages, but don’t dive deep into that, Stone said. “We establish the connection to the computer and scaffold from there how the internet works,” he said. “It establishes a good connection with the students because they stay on their phones.”

St. Charles junior Nevaeh McKinney and sophomore Takai Scroggins are among the girls taking computer science classes and likely to go on to college. For McKinney, computers are a family affair. His grandmother owns and runs a tech support company where McKinney’s father and uncles work. Or maybe she was born to understand how things work. “When I was little, I loved taking things apart and putting things back together,” she said. “I just find it interesting how things work, how our phones are literally computers.” She is interested in software development and code reviews. Scroggins took computer science in first grade and loved it. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to make my own website – I’m taking a web design course right now – and it’s really, really interesting,” she said. “Being able to do my own thing, do a site the way I want to do it.”

St. Charles High School sophomore Takai Scroggins, left, and junior Nevaeh McKinney work on computer homework. Both are interested in studying computer science in college.

Both McKinney and Scroggins would like to see more women in computer science and STEM classes. “I really think we need more girls in these classes,” McKinney said.

“I think it’s a society that makes girls feel like they can only go so far,” Scroggins said. “And some girls don’t try to go beyond that because people make them feel like, ‘This isn’t a girl’s job.'” That’s why representation is important, she says. “Not only [to reach] girls, but also black girls. People underestimate women,” Scroggins said.

McKinney would like young girls to be encouraged to take computer classes. “You could tell girls they can’t do this, but they can,” she said. “Because they’re told that, they don’t try. And if you don’t try, you don’t know. “

Stone and St. Charles faculty members introduce computer science and related clubs to students to pique their interest. “I think people from different backgrounds bring new ideas, different ideas. It’s important that we have a diverse group of people making decisions and creating these things because they understand what people from their backgrounds may need,” Stone said. “I think the more diversity you have in the industry, the more groundbreaking things are going to happen.”


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