HARRISONBURG — Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni visited Harrisonburg High School on Wednesday to learn about the computer science program offered at the school.
Qarni later visited Bluestone Elementary, stopping by classrooms and discussing student-centered instructional practices with teachers and the school’s leadership team.
Computer science teachers Perry Shank and Jon Stapleton, along with Harrisonburg High School Principal Cynthia Prieto, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Pat Lintner and Superintendent Michael Richards held a roundtable discussion with Qarni regarding computer science.
Shank told Qarni the computer science program at Harrisonburg High School started three years ago with only one class offered. Now, there are eight courses within four areas of interest: cybersecurity, developer, information technology, and web and design.
“There are a lot of different ways to learn programming,” Shank said. “[By next year,] we will have three full-time computer science teachers.”
One of the topics discussed was taking what is taught in the classroom and applying it after a student graduates.
“We want students to have success after they graduate from high school if that’s the direction they want to go and we have some classes where we can move kids into [Massanutten Technical Center] as well where they can work on certifications,” Shank said. “We are working on developing some certifications in our pathways as well that would be the industry standard.”
Shank said he hopes the program helps students to “get that foot in the door.”
“It is our hope that we can offer students who are interested after they graduate from high school to go work in web design or go work in cybersecurity,” Shank said.
Stapleton said a lot of the stuff they are teaching doesn’t have a type of certification that kicks off fairly quickly. By offering the tools needed to learn the programs, it offers what the students would need to get on the right path to move forward.
Qarni said it was impressive to have numerous options available for students to learn about computer science programs.
Although the battle may seem to be with getting students interested in taking the course, Shank said the problem is actually having teachers for computer science.
“Being able to find teachers to teach computer science is the tricky part,” Shank said. “Next year, we already have three full-time, which is great.”
Shank said another challenge is how to teach the course. He said it is hard to offer “robust curriculum” if teachers are new to the industry.
“On-the-job training is really important,” Shank said. “The hard part to teach is how to teach. The easier part is the actual content.”
Shank said he had experience with programming when he was a teenager and has always done work in technology throughout his career, which prepared him to take on a job teaching computer science.
Stapleton added that those who come in having an understanding of the curriculum from previous teachers can bring a sense of what is possible for computer science programs and helps to find other opportunities outside of a degree.
Prieto said the program meets the needs of many students who attend Harrisonburg High School.
Prieto told Qarni that students who previously took a class in computer programming developed an app that showed the school’s bell schedule during any given day, saying the app is still used by teachers today.
“Shank and Stapleton are very humbled in the last two years of the number of course requests that have just blown up,” Prieto said. “And I think it is the personality of the two teachers and how they direct traffic more than direct construction so for the kids, if you’re interest truly is something as practical as a bell schedule, have at it. This is as cool as anything.”