This Computer Science Education Week, the Springfield School District announced the launch of a comprehensive, school-wide computer science initiative for the middle and high schools supported by grants from the Siegel Family Endowment and the Vermont Community Foundation. In conjunction with this initiative, the Springfield School Board voted to make the school district the first in Vermont to make one semester of coding a high school graduation requirement.

Zach McLaughlin, Superintendent of the Springfield School District, explained the decision. “Our school district is constantly thinking about how to best prepare our students for their social, civic, and economic lives. As we follow societal trends, we know that their lives will be intertwined with computer science. Whether as a community member, a voter, or a wage earner, our students’ worlds will be impacted by the growing integration of technology with all aspects of their lives. Computer science skills will set our graduates up for success.”

Designed to leverage Springfield’s best-in-country gigabit internet, the computer science program will provide every student with a basic knowledge of coding with an aim to develop critical problem-solving skills. The initiative intends to offer additional in and out of school clubs and activities, including a First Robotics team and 3D Vermont club to enhance experiential-learning and to increase confidence and achievement in skills with tangible, real world value. In addition, the program will use strategies proven to empower girls to feel welcome and excited about computer science, and to fight gender disparity in the field.

To increase the breadth and depth of student knowledge and relevance of computer science beyond the school, the initiative hopes to include a dedicated three-season CS coach and activity-specific mentors who offer school-wide workshops, facilitate small-group activities and support individual student endeavors, all designed to unlock new opportunities and encourage the active pursuit of student interests.

Southern Vermont native Marguerite Dibble will serve as senior consultant to the initiative and help guide development of the co-curricular activities and the Girls Coding program. Marguerite is a graduate of the Champlain College gaming program, and founder of the award winning gaming company GameTheory.

“Technology, when used to its best potential, can provide empowerment and opportunity for many. As an industry, technology needs to diversify and broaden, and to do that we need to teach tech enthusiasm in a way that focuses on creativity, empathy, and impact,” said Marguerite. “If we can build a program that helps all kinds of kids see through mentorship, hands on experiences, and self-discovery, that technology skills can be a platform of opportunity for many diverse and exciting careers, that will be a great success.”

A major focus of both the curricular and co-curricular offerings will be to “show-by-doing” how computer science can be applied across industries and professions, and to help students pursue computer science internships and career pathways. “Springfield has a long and rich history of innovation,” said Bob Flint, Executive Director of the Springfield Regional Development Corporation. “This initiative in our schools ensures the next generation has the tools get and create innovation jobs of today and the future.”

The computer science initiative is part of a larger economic development partnership in Springfield between Springfield Regional Development Corporation and the Vermont-based Center on Rural Innovation (CORI), an organization committed to helping rural economies succeed in the digital age.

Significant funding for the initiative has been provided by The Siegel Family Endowment and by a block grant by the the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF) on behalf of the Vermont Women’s Fund, the McClure Foundation and VCF donors.

Dan Smith, President & CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, reaffirmed the foundation’s support. “On behalf of the VCF funders involved, we are excited to be supporting innovative practices in the Springfield School District that will offer more students in the community a chance to develop skills and knowledge that are a crucial step on the path to economic opportunity. This strategic co-funding partnership is a model we hope to see grow into the future.”

Katy Knight, Deputy Executive Director for the Siegel Family Endowment, explained their organization’s motivation to support the project. “We believe deeply in the power of computational thinking and being able to engage with technology as creators rather than consumers. It is critical that we equip students everywhere with the skills they need so that the next generation of innovators can come from all parts of the country, bring to the table a diverse set of skills informed by their surroundings. Innovation-driven growth should be accessible to people everywhere, and we are excited to support the vision of the Center on Rural Innovation and the Springfield School District to make that a reality.”

The program will launch January of 2018 with full implementation expected for the 2018/2019 school year.