Exposing Students to Historically Black Colleges and Universities — A Mission To Close the Digital Divide
As we come to the end of Black History Month, CSforALL shares an article written by Victor “Coach” Hicks, STREAM teacher & founder of Coding with Culture, about his passion transcending the classroom to provide culturally-relevant computer science experiences through HBCU.
When I tell people I am a teacher, the usual line of questioning is:
“Oh really? What grade do you teach?”
“I have everybody, I am a computer science teacher.”
“Wow! That’s cool, what grades do you have?”
“Kindergarten through 8th graders”, I reply, usually poking out my chest a bit because ANY mention of my kids reminds me just how awesome they are!
Most people are surprised that Kindergarten students are learning computer science so early in their educational careers. I explain how my program introduces concepts in computer science in an age-appropriate way, but I am sure to make the point clear—which is the point I am sharing with you good folks today: Digital divide which speaks to the gap between people of color and women in technology and their white male peers. If we want to truly close the digital divide for Black students in computer science, we must create a very clear and deliberate path for Black students from Kindergarten through HBCU matriculation in Computational Thought.
Yes, you read that correctly: Computational Thought. Computational Thought is the larger umbrella under which coding and programming reside. I am a firm believer in the fact that the digital divide for Black students will truly close when we dispel the myth that coding is the only piece of the computer science and technology puzzle for our students. There are many areas and genres, so to speak, of projects and career fields where a diverse set of skills and interests fit into the computer science world. We limit our Black students, counterproductively to closing this named divide, by creating the notion that coding equals computer science exclusively. To be quite honest, many of our students will learn to code and decide it is not for them and that’s okay. They still may make an impact in other ways still in the field of technology.
The more entry points we expose our students to, the greater the possibility they will see potential in subscribing their talents to those fields and/or career paths.
The benefits of exposure to Historically Black Colleges and Universities for Black students also immersed in computational thought practice are plentiful. First, these illustrious institutions provide such a wealth of culturally relevant material for students to base their computational artifacts on. In teaching an HTML unit, why not have students create a website based upon an HBCU of their choice? The SKILLS are still the same but with this simple addition, you are allowing students to see these institutions exist. As the students completed research to find information to populate their websites, the floor naturally opened to very candid but beneficial conversations about college & career with students. I remember the look of amazement when a student interested in cutting hair learned this was a VERY important part of Black College culture and many before him made money they put toward their education. This young man is now a student at an HBCU and making very impressive progress.
I am a firm believer that we owe our students exposure to such a rich part of our country’s history.
In addition, by introducing our students to HBCUs in the realm of computer science and computational thought, we present pathways for them to successfully gain the knowledge needed to gain and sustain within 21st-century college and career opportunities. If we are asking our students to charter new territory, it is imperative we place them on educational paths that are intentional about Black student success. There is comfort in knowing that everyone within your network is about you succeeding. That comfort allows students to focus their energies on gaining knowledge without distraction. In the world of STEM education, experts would agree that our kids need to see people that look like them in various STEM careers. I would take it a step further and say our kids need to see schools that prepare students that look like them to excel in those careers without hesitation.
The earlier we begin to introduce our students to culturally relevant and sustainable experiences in computational thinking and computer science, the better.
More specifically, if we are using HBCUs culture for this work, it is important that our youngest students know these institutions exist, not only for gaining pride in their culture, but for understanding that deep collegiate traditions that exist for their white counterparts exist in our community as well. It is to this same notion why it is important for non-Black students to learn about HBCUs as well. These institutions are a part of American culture and it is important for our Black students to see they are equally celebrated in diverse environments as well. Diversity and Inclusion does not only equate to Black children being exposed to majority culture.
As a Black male educator, I understand the importance of bringing the excellence of Black culture to life for all students, which in turn helps many of them develop their voice in diverse situations where students of color so often get lost in the mix.
I challenge us as educators to switch the focus and let’s begin to create a beneficial, culturally relevant, and sustainable path for our Black students into computer science and on a larger scale, computational thought. Historically Black Colleges are receiving unprecedented amounts of support from tech-related companies and projects. Why would we not INTENTIONALLY prepare our Black students to strive for excellence at our own illustrious institutions?
For HBCU-related classroom resources, check out these amazing Black (& HBCU alum) owned businesses on Instagram:
About the Author: Victor “Coach” Hicks is a STREAM teacher at St. Thomas More Catholic School and the founder of CodingwithCulture, focusing on providing HBCU readiness for K-8 students.