The Austin Community College District and Apple have partnered to create a new coding program that provides ongoing technology training to students from kindergarten until after they enter the workforce.
The Austin Community Education Initiative will bring coding classes to underrepresented schools and communities, focusing efforts on areas where students might not have had the opportunity to learn coding skills before.
The program kicked off this week as teachers from K-12 schools throughout the Austin area spent five days learning how to develop apps with Apple’s software. Those teachers will begin offering coding camps to students as early as next week, and incorporate coding into their own classes.
Shasta Buchanan, ACC’s associate vice president for college and high school relations, said the teachers were selected from schools that have a high number of disadvantaged students, like those receiving free and reduced lunches. The teachers also came from connected feeder schools to ensure students would have the chance to learn coding at every level of their education without any gaps.
“We’ve noticed that when you start early and you don’t wait until students complete high school, then you start building their confidence and ability to do it,” Buchanan said.
Teachers were tasked with developing apps that could be used to solve a challenge facing their community. Tara Bordeaux, a film and photography teacher at Lanier Early College High School, developed an app that hosts resources for students facing social or emotional health problems.
Bordeaux said she often struggles with math and was intimidated when the program began. By the end of the week, however, Bordeaux said she was excited to present her app to the other teachers and to see what they created.
“When I think of coding I just immediately think of math, and I kind of shut down,” she said. “Before you know it, I am designing prototypes and taking ideas in my head and making them more formidable and more realistic. That was a weird thing to feel.”
Bordeaux said she plans to use what she learned to start a “Girls Who Code” club at her school.
″(It’s) exciting for me to empower them with something like this,” she said.
ACC is also launching a new applied sciences certificate program that students can start in high school as a dual-credit course and finish shortly after graduating.
Buchanan said ACC wants to make higher education more achievable by offering programs that teach useful skills in shorter periods of time, rather than spending years on an associate or bachelor’s degree.
“It minimizes their dependence on loans because they can have a real job while they’re completing the rest of their degree,” Buchanan said. ”(This lets us) ensure students don’t have to worry about that stressor.”
Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said the program ties into the company’s history of making technology more user-friendly for the average person, so teaching coding is a logical next step.
“We have a history in Austin that goes back decades. And, of course, we have an expanding facility, and part of being in the community is (working on) initiatives to help communities develop along with Apple,” Jackson said. “We love being in Austin and we wanted to be a positive force for the community in Austin.”