The Importance of Youth Contributions to Computer Science Education

2020 #CSforALL Commitment Maker, Bay Area Youth Computer Science Council, Shares Reflections on the Organization’s — Almost Two Year — Journey

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Jessica Song, Founding Member and Head Officer of Education (center) with three event attendees, July 2019

In March 2019, three high school students who were interested in CS — and boba — congregated at the San Mateo County Office of Education with Dr. Emily Thomforde to discuss their hopes and fears for the future of CS Education. Brainstorming on a large whiteboard, they wrote down all of their ideas, ranging from hosting inclusive panel events about different fields of CS to organizing free online CS resources for high school students.

I, Supriya Lall, Founding Member and Head Outreach Officer of BAYCSC, was one of these three high schoolers. Although we were small in number, we immediately knew what we wanted to do: inspire others. We wanted to build a world in anyone — regardless of ethnicity or gender — could pursue computer science. We wanted to build on the legacy of those who came before them; who were brave enough to shatter the glass ceiling and overcome institutionalized racism and sexism. Most of all, we wanted to address the inequities in CS Education, a pandemic in itself.

Moreover, this group of high school students would soon grow to be the Bay Area Youth Computer Science Council, a team of high schoolers from across the country committed to increasing access and inclusion in CS by serving as mentors to others, hosting virtual events, and overall, empowering everyone to use CS to change the world.

Building on the goals from the inaugural meeting, the next step on our journey was mentoring at Hack the Future, a hackathon organized by Learningtech.org. After helping many middle school and elementary school students learn about different areas of CS at HtF, we soon hosted our own CSEd (CS Education) event at the Redwood City Library.

Accompanied with loaner iPads, we encouraged and supported participants of all ages as they excitedly navigated the world of Lightbot, learning many computer science concepts in the process. The success of this event motivated us to organize more beginner coding workshops at other libraries in the Bay Area. At the Saratoga Library, we organized a “Scratch-athon” (hackathon with Scratch) for elementary school students to learn the basics of programming in Scratch and work on team projects. We continued the “Scratch-athon” series at the Belmont Library, inviting more elementary school students to learn about Scratch and praising their efforts as they pursued the wildest ideas imaginable in their projects.

Soon, as we aimed to inspire middle and high school students, our attention soon shifted to speaker events and speaker series. To that end, we organized our first panel event — TryCS — with industry experts in CS from Apple, Learningtech.org, Apple, and Stanford and invited teenagers to learn about their career paths.

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BAYCSC Team Members and Panelists at TryCS at TechCode, February 2020

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, we continued advocating for CSEd by organizing online APCS test preparation workshops for high schoolers every single week until the exam. This summer, we organized an online speaker series for teenagers centered on the theme of CS+Social Good with industry experts from LinkedIn, Khan Academy, and UCSC.

Currently, we are planning several events and initiatives to continually address the COVID-19 pandemic and the issue of equity in CS — including a virtual hackathon for middle and high school students, an online CEU (continuing education unit) course through UCSD and Foothill College, and another Zoom speaker series with college students and industry experts in CS fields.

To that end, our CSforAll Commitment draws on our previous and current work to address the theme “Closing Gaps.” Over the next year, we want to build on our existing momentum by hosting more virtual events in conjunction with Learningtech.org.

Below is the text of the 2020 #CSforALL Commitment:

“This year, the Bay Area Youth Computer Science Council will partner with Learningtech.org to host inclusive CSEd events targeted to middle and high school students from under-resourced communities. We plan to organize at least 6 virtual events that will either be speaker events or hackathons to increase access and equity in CSEd, impacting approximately 500 students by September 1st, 2021.”

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BAYCSC Team Members, November 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2020 commitment is extremely important to the national CS community. Now more than ever, we need action plans from organizations that are dedicated to increasing equity and inclusion in CSEd, whether it be developing curriculum, organizing online resources, or hosting virtual events for students.

To that end, we need to foster cultures of collaboration, especially among youth, and create spaces where all ideas are welcome. Our hope for the future of BAYCSC is to sustain the (already existing) strong cooperative community and furthermore exemplify the ideal of “youth supporting youth.” With our CSForAll commitment, we are continually dedicated to building inclusive spaces for all individuals in CS, and we are so excited to see what the future holds.

About Author: Supriya Lall, Founding Member and Head Outreach Officer of Bay Area Youth Computer Science Council

About Bay Area Youth Computer Science Council: BAYCSC was founded in March 2019, BAYCSC consists of a team of high schoolers who advocate for computer science education. We expose a multitude of people to the wonderful aspects of computer science by making it more fun, accessible and approachable.

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The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.

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