Written by: Ethan Davis, Code Nation Program Manager

The CSForAll summit, held in Memphis in October, left me feeling refreshed and energized – as if there has never been a better time to work towards expanding computer science education. The summit was a time for computer science advocates to gather and celebrate loudly, acknowledging the work and progress that has been happening both regionally and nationally. The conference began with a reception and exhibition hall intentionally held at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, grounding us all in that expanding CS education access means meeting students where they are. It was a reminder of the value libraries have in our communities as safe places where students and adults alike can gather, explore, and nurture curiosity. I felt that magic as I explored the exhibition hall; playing with drones, VR, and other innovative CS projects happening in the local Memphis community while connecting with other brilliant educators, advocates, students, and robots!

As we moved into the second day and I got to listen to other fellow leaders and their accomplishments, I knew I was in the right place. Beginning with the keynote address and a series of panels, I saw the work of educational equity as broad and active with so many aligned stakeholders and players coming from many different directions. I was inspired by student performers from STEM From Dance showing how a “computer science class” can have many different forms and has the power to validate students in culturally and linguistically relevant ways. I was personally encouraged to keep fighting after listening to the founding story of Indigitize Computer Science, an organization working to provide culturally relevant and high-quality computer science opportunities to indigenous youth. In fact, one of the first school districts they are aiming to work with is Central Consolidated School District, where I taught high school for two years! (Go Skyhawks!!)

A highlight for me was the charismatic keynote speaker, Múkami Kinoti Kimotho. She spoke on so many of the things that keep me up at night and are the fuel for my work as an educator. With an acute awareness of how self-value and self-worth are directly correlated with exposure to technology, she discussed how “play” has changed dramatically – and she particularly shed light on how this impacts the self-esteem of our young nonbinary and femme students. Grounded in the importance of love, joy, and social and emotional development, she developed a game Royelles – Gaming For Girls. This is a game specifically created “for girls, by girls” to empower and ignite potential for leadership and STEAM. Múkami’s speech reiterated the importance of embracing community in this work. Collective action with broad and diverse coalitions can create opportunities for innovation and creative solutions to the relationship our society has with technology. For this reason, it is imperative all students have access to computer science education.

I also attended panels that explored the work in expanding CS education, including a panel moderated by Code Nation’s CEO, Ron Summers. Two discussion points stood out for me: first, certifications are a new approach to equitable education, as they provide high-quality instruction in various skills and abilities, and are significantly more affordable and accessible than a traditional four-year college program (e.g. Coursera.com). There are some organizations that are investing immensely in building out course pathways like Google, and other organizations, like codepath.org, that give wrap-around support to ace technical interviews and other elements that are not as easily taught in online certification platforms. Second, when generating legislative support for computer science education it is critical for that support to be done in a way that is sustainable and long-term so that districts have time to strategically implement CS programs in a way that also supports teachers. There must be room for local communities to implement CS programs in a way that is best aligned with the local context. Community members are the experts in their communities and best know how to bridge all the local competing priorities and needs.

On my flight home, I kept thinking about the All portion of CSForAll and that I am so grateful to be at Code Nation – an anti-racist and pro-Black organization that is committed to diversifying the tech industry. Múkami was right, play for kids in the 21st century really has evolved. Most kids spend hours on their phones, which unfortunately does often lead to poor social development outcomes. Many kids assume a computer science classroom is monolithic, or have the perception that it’s not for them and that just white cis men are participating. This is why work like Royelles, STEM From Dance, and Indigitize Computer Science is so critical – to begin working through the imposter syndrome that inhibits the majority of our students from even trying.

Code Nation is the first step to getting kids to fall in love with coding. We expose students to the magic of not only coding and computer science, but also to the tech industry, which is ever-changing and advancing – a culture that Code Nation proudly embraces. We must ask ourselves: how can we not only get kids excited about coding but also excited about all of the possibilities that computer science can provide?

In recent years, education has become a new frontier of political discourse and debate. Moving into the future, particularly in a post-COVID world, computer science has been so deeply entrenched in every sector and industry our students could go into. In order to prepare our students for the future, computer science must be available and accessible to all. Not only is it the future, but it also creates opportunities for financial freedom and economic empowerment for individuals and their communities. This is the work of educational equity.

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