Inland Empire Code Consortium Commits to Expose More Underrepresented Students to Computer Science

A consortium made up of nine school districts embarks on a three-year plan to include computer science education opportunities throughout students' time in school.

Nine Southern California school districts are working together to give every kindergarten through high school student an opportunity to learn about computer science during the school day.

East of Los Angeles, Riverside Unified School District had been dabbling with Hour of Code tutorials from the nonprofit, which is dedicated to expanding computer science access and participation, particularly for women and underrepresented students of color. In 2014-15, the district started three coding clubs after school, and because they were so popular, they grew to 15 clubs that same year. The clubs used Google's CS First materials for fourth- through eighth-graders online at no charge. 

But just participating in a few afterschool clubs or Hour of Code events once a year wasn't enough. 

"When it's a one-off volunteer event or just an afterschool activity, you are not reaching your students consistently," said Renee Hill, assistant superintendent of instructional support at Riverside Unified School District. "I think in this day and age, everybody needs some level of awareness of computer science."

On top of that, the district wanted students to learn how to produce applications and technology resources, not just consume them, Hill said. When students learn about high-paying career opportunities like computer science early, they have a chance to understand what the field really includes and make an informed decision about whether they're interested in it — either as a personal passion or as a career, said Steve Kong, staff development specialist at Riverside Unified School District.

"We want them to know that this is an opportunity that is available to them, and by giving them that early exposure, they can build confidence early on that they can do this," Kong said. 

Under Hill's division, the Innovation Department started looking at a more comprehensive way to approach computer science throughout the district. Kong and Steven Dunlap, the director of innovation and learner engagement, worked with to see what they could come up with. As their peers in other districts heard about what they were doing, their efforts led to a district consortium of nine that Riverside Unified supports with professional development:

  • Corona-Norco Unified School District  
  • Covina-Valley Unified School District  
  • Fontana Unified School District  
  • Jurupa Valley Unified School District  
  • Perris Union High School District  
  • Riverside Unified School District  
  • San Jacinto Unified School District  
  • Temecula Valley Unified School District  
  • Val Verde Unified School District  
This summer, some teachers in the Inland Code Consortium have participated in summer workshops, with about 100 elementary teachers, 30 to 40 middle school teachers and 50 to 60 high school teachers trained so far, Kong said. In the fall, these teachers and others who will participate in the remaining workshops will put their training into practice.

At Riverside Unified School District, a small pilot of early adopters will teach with computer science. Elementary teachers will integrate it into math and science subjects; middle school math and science teachers will integrate it into their subjects; and high school teachers will teach both Advanced Placement Computer Science and a new class called Exploring Computer Science.

Ultimately, the consortium wants to see every kindergarten through high school student exposed to computer science at each level so they can decide whether they want to pursue that field or pursue something else instead, Kong said.