The new program will be similar to the MAD Academy and the VADA Academy currently offered at Santa Barbara High School.

Paul Wellman (file)

The new program will be similar to the MAD Academy and the VADA Academy currently offered at Santa Barbara High School.

Computer Science Academy Approved for Santa Barbara High School

Educators Point to Rise in Tech Industry Jobs

Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Santa Barbara High School will have a new Computer Science Academy next year. The program, approved by the school board at Tuesday’s meeting, will be similar to the MAD Academy at SBHS or the Engineering Academy at Dos Pueblos High School, except that it will be an “open” academy, meaning students could take just a course or two rather than being required to take several courses for three or four years.

At a board meeting two weeks ago, board members voiced concerns about attracting enough girls to the program, a nation-wide problem in the field. In the three computer science classes currently offered at Santa Barbara High School, only seven percent are females. But SBHS Computer Science teacher Paul Muhl said his top two students are consistently females. (The young ladies are teaching a group of middle school girls at a computer science camp.) Muhl plans to incorporate art into the curriculum to attract more females — and males, too, he said.

“Typically it’s the industry that hasn’t had a lot of women,” said boardmember Monique Limon. “It is a problem,” she added. “In higher education, students are already weeded out. We’re starting young…I think what we’re doing is unique.”

Muhl, Principal John Becchio, and calculus teacher Richard Johnston are spearheading efforts to spread awareness about the benefits of the subject. Muhl considers middle school age (and younger) a good time to educate youth about computer science. It’s not “just for nerdy guys,” he said, adding that a big part of his outreach is to “demystify” software engineering. So far, he’s been successful. Based on preliminary numbers, Muhl said the amount of interested students for next year has doubled.

Supporters of the program also pointed to recent stats that 1.5 million industry jobs are expected to be available next year, but only 10 percent of schools offer computer science courses. “It’s very exciting,” said Muhl, adding that he hopes coding competitions and field trips will be part of the academy. “There’s a lot of great data.”

“Computer science at SBHS has reached a point where we are more than just a couple of elective classes,” said Becchio. “We are more than just an intro, middle, and capstone course.”

In California, students don’t get math or science credit for computer science courses. A handful of bills are currently going through the state legislature to attempt to expand programming from a niche area to a common field. If these bills pass, the Board of Education would have to develop computer science standards and colleges would have to create guidelines for admission credit.

Startup expenses for the district will be $167,000 over two years, which will include curriculum development, a second computer, and a laptop lab for the 2015-2016 school year.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

About 30 years behind the times, aren't they?

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 9:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

About time! and the money proposed is pretty modest. Sure they're behind the times JL, but hasn't your knee-jerk distrust of government (e.g. opposition to Prop 30) and of any tax increases been part of public schools' decline?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 12:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is just exciting news coming from the academic world! But does this type of program go far enough? What about junior high school, as once it was called? And what efforts will be made to pull the student of low income (mightn't the church be incorporated as support to such students off campus, of course?) background into the mix?

Not to worry! I'm sure the educators intend to cast the net as wide as possible and as early as possible to see that no student is left behind. This is indeed exciting news! Would that I could start it all over!

salsipuedes (anonymous profile)
April 28, 2014 at 8:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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