Fostering Tech Talent at Inwood Academy

Preparing students for both college and careers is a priority for Inwood Academy. When we engage our students in thinking about a career opportunity, it builds a sense of hope and optimism about their future.

To foster this preparation, we bring in partners who volunteer their time to educate and inspire our students in the field of science, medicine, and technology—from the New York Restoration Project, Columbia University, Google, and Microsoft.

One of our newer partners is TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools). The TEALS program is part of Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative. They recruit, mentor, and place passionate high tech professionals in schools with two goals: help teach computer science, and inspire the students to pursue science and technology careers.

We are just one of 22 schools in NYC that is a TEALS partner school and are pleased to be entering our second school-year with the program. We are taking advantage of this amazing opportunity to bring computer science courses to our high school students.

The tech industry is challenged in finding and hiring qualified, talented employees. There simply aren’t enough candidates to meet the needs of the industry. With the TEALS program, they are providing rigorous computer science to high schools while tackling the shortage of computer science graduates.

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As the computer science teacher last school-year, I worked with software engineers from Facebook and Shutterstock to teach the Introduction to Computer Science course based off of UC Berkeley’s award-winning Beauty and Joy of Computing curriculum. This coming school year, we will continue to expand the program, bringing in a new partner teacher, a team of volunteers, and students.

Helping our students to identify where their passions lie is key to preparing them for future jobs and correlates to success in school. With the engineers in the class, our students were pushed beyond what I would have been capable of as a teacher, creating complex, multi-step projects, and using original algorithmic thinking to solve difficult problems. Even those students who decided by the end of the year that computer science was not for them benefitted immensely, as they were challenged to think computationally, developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills that will transfer across disciplines.

Perhaps most importantly, while talk of career pathways and critical thinking is crucial, the class was also fun! There was constant laughter in the classroom as students created a classic side-scrolling Mario game, animated the movements of their favorite professional wrestlers, developed humorous telemarketer programs, and coded games of Hangman. For fifty minutes each school day, we all got to engage in a fun, challenging, and truly unique educational experience. I am so pleased that we are continuing with the TEALS program for the 2017-2018 school year, and am excited to see how computer science can continue to grow at Inwood Academy.

 

Mastery–based Learning

We began our first school year in 2010, a small group of eager teachers, myself included, housed in a trailer outside a local public school. We were entrusted with 125 fifth graders, charged with the task of supporting their educational growth by meeting their specific learning needs.

This first group of children will be entering the 11th grade in the fall of 2016. They know we not only expect them to graduate but expect them to be prepared for post-secondary education and the workforce. Just as we crafted an educational program to meet their specific needs in literacy or mathematics when they were in the 5th grade, we have adapted to meet their specific needs as high school students in order to prepare them for their postsecondary success.

Career Readiness

Many of our students are drawn to a more hands-on style of learning, where they can acquire the skills needed to promote career readiness. At Inwood Academy, we started to combine career training with academics as a way to get our students more interested in pursuing a post-secondary education, which may be a certificate from a trade institution or attending a two-year school or a four-year college.

As the economy continues to fluctuate, all of our students need to be prepared for a job market that is highly competitive and where a college degree doesn’t guarantee immediate employment. As reported in The U.S. Job Market And Students’ Academic And Career Paths Necessitate Enhanced Vocational Education in High Schools, there’s a widening gap of skilled labor to fill middle-skill jobs, which represents 42% of the U.S. workforce.

States and school districts across the country have recognized the need for career and technology training for high school students. The manufacturing industry is growing at an exponential rate all across the country, contributing to an increasingly large market for skilled job opportunities. Learning by “doing” has become a major force propelling the rise of business opportunities for entrepreneurs. Studies done on the small subset of high school students that have access to vocational training indicate that a growing number of graduates move on to well-paid, highly skilled postsecondary careers.

This movement toward career training at the high school level is merely a course correction from the assumption of the past few decades that all students will benefit from the same college preparatory courses and that every child should attend a four-year college right out of high school. As told in The New CTE: New York City as Laboratory for America report, New York City has been at the forefront of the national revolution in career education for the past ten years.

A student choosing a vocation or career over college should be a decision made with the same resources and in the same regard as choosing a college. That’s where Inwood Academy’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program comes in.

As a founding teacher at Inwood Academy, my focus has been on building relationships with my students in order to understand their perspective – the unique set of experiences, challenges, fears and hopes that make them who they are and influence their decisions. I see a real need for a broader scope of options beyond the traditional academic pathway to graduation that we currently offer our students.

To meet the needs of students who would most benefit from alternative pathways to graduation, we have begun the process of establishing an official CTE program at Inwood. Universally recognized and endorsed by the New York State Department of Education, CTE programs are meant to provide an additional level of individualized support in the educational program and to increase the number of options for students to achieve postsecondary success.

Fundraising Campaign

Inwood Academy currently offers an introductory woodworking course that takes place during the school day, along with a program for advanced students offered afterschool and on weekends. Starting next year, we will add other classes including auto mechanics and metalworking. Our plan is to grow this program over the next two years with additional CTE course offerings and an expanded workshop facility. To raise the funds necessary for such an expansion, we have begun a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo.

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If we raise the funding needed to expand our CTE workshop, Inwood Academy will be able to fully develop our CTE program as an alternative pathway to graduation with additional coursework and alignment to industry standards. Although we are fortunate enough to have dedicated classroom space, we cannot sustain our CTE program without additional funding. Contributions made to our campaign will be used to establish a facility with the resources, materials, and equipment that encourage creativity and facilitate deep learning.

Please visit our fundraising page and share it with anyone who might be interested in helping out:
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/urban-woodworking-project#/

Every little bit counts!