Oakland Teens At The Forefront Of White House Computer Science Initiative

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Students from a computer class at Oakland’s Skyline High. (Youth Radio)
Students from a computer class at Oakland’s Skyline High. (Youth Radio)

When I was a student at Oakland High School just a few years ago, my classmates and I had never heard of computer science. Even today, I’m intimidated by coding. Now there’s an effort underway to make sure that computer science is a regular part of the curriculum for all students.

At Oakland’s Skyline High, Jedidiah Burton is already on his way to becoming a computer expert. “Right now we’re learning and getting the basics of this text language called Python and it’s similar to Java and C++,” said Burton.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith visited Burton’s classroom Monday to highlight the President’s new Computer Science for All effort. Smith was joined by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Oakland officials say the city intends to be a national model for computer science education, and they are tapping social impact investors like tech pioneer Mitch Kapor and his wife Freada Kapor Klein.

“We’re next to Silicon Valley,” said Congresswoman Lee. “We are also going to be be a tech hub, and there are many many good paying jobs in the tech sector… Our young people will either be prepared to have their own businesses, or to be entrepreneurs or to work in the tech sector, where they’ll be able to raise their family and live the American Dream.”

As part of the President’s initiative, the Oakland Unified School District has announced that students pre-K through high school will have access to “rigorous computer science education in the classroom by 2020.”

Smith, the White House CTO, said people who graduate from high school will often say math or science isn’t their thing. “We really want all of our kids to be great in all of their subjects, and to feel the confidence and power that they need in order to bring all of those subjects into the world.”

Burton said that no matter what he chooses to do in the future, his computer science classes will benefit him. “Not only do we get this opportunity to learn from this,” he said, “we also get to change the future. Because we are the future of computer science.”

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