Verizon set to bring computer science programs to two Kansas City middle schools

With fewer than 40 percent of K-12 schools in the U.S. offering computer science courses, Verizon is bringing technology and hands-on learning opportunities to two middle schools in north and southeast Kansas City.

Verizon Innovative Learning, the education initiative of the Verizon Foundation, announced that Smith-Hale Middle School and Eastgate Middle School will receive new computer science programs for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years.

Verizon is working on the initiative with its national partner Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit organization that develops STEM curricula for elementary, middle and high schools.

“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than 1.3 million open positions in computer- and math-related fields by 2022, with computer science skills needed in more than 180 industries from auto repair to health care. Yet too few schools offer quality computer science education,” said Vince Bertram, president and CEO of Project Lead the Way.

Smith-Hale and Eastgate middle schools will be two schools out of 150 across the U.S. that are sharing the $3 million grant.

“I think the grant funding is really helpful,” said Chris McCann, Eastgate Middle School principal. “It really allows us to, hopefully, produce more engineers and designers. If we can get more kids excited about these fields, not just thinking about doing it, but actually doing it and understanding the hard work that goes into it, that work can be pretty enjoyable and rewarding, and I think it’s going to pay off for everybody.”

Each middle school will receive $20,000 in grant funding for the programs, which will feature two computer science units: App Creators and Computer Science for Innovators and Makers. These units are part of Project Lead the Way’s K-12 computer science pathway.

The $3 million grant is an expansion of an initial $5 million partnership that began in 2014 between Verizon and Project Lead the Way. The partnership has already offered access to a computer science curriculum to more than 240 schools across 36 states.

More than 28,000 students have had the opportunity to access these programs. A majority of those students have been female and underrepresented minorities — demographics which are severely lacking in the computer science field.

Through these programs students have developed more than 77,000 apps to solve real-world problems, take on challenges in their communities and strengthen critical thinking.

“We are living in a thriving digital economy that will continue to grow, and many jobs of the future will be rooted in science, technology, engineering and math,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, education director for the Verizon Foundation. “We need more students to have access to technology and the skills they need to be prepared for success in these career fields. Partners like Project Lead The Way help us bring this mission to fruition.”