Twice as many students will be taking computer science courses at Santa Barbara High School this fall when the new academy starts.
The Santa Barbara High School Foundation put $50,000 toward the Computer Science Academy launch and was particularly interested in the open academy model, development director Katie Jacobs said. It’s unique from other academy programs, which usually require students to be committed to specific classes during their high school years.
“It’s appealing to me as a parent because my son has the flexibility to take some classes without being too invested,” said academy volunteer Felicia Kashevaroff, whose son is an incoming freshman signed up for one of the fall courses.
Paul Muhl, who splits his time between teaching AP Computer Science and working as a software engineer for Toyon Research Corp., is the academy’s director. He said his professional experience gives him “street cred” and some connections to help find internships for next year’s students.
There are 150 students enrolled for the academy’s five classes, compared with 70 students in the introductory and AP Computer Science courses offered now.
“There’s a big push out there because there’s a known gap between the number of computer programmers being trained and the demand for them; it’s a huge gap,” Muhl said.
He doesn’t expect or even want all the students to become programmers, but the computer literacy concepts will help them better understand the digital world, he said.
Despite the high demand for software engineers, only 10 percent of United States high schools offer computer science programs, according to Jacobs.
Some students will be very gung-ho and want to take every class offered, but any student can sign up for a classes to get a taste of the program.
Next year’s classes include an introductory Exploring Computer Science class (taught by calculus teacher Richard Johnston) and mobile programming class with iOS apps. Other courses teach java programming, which Android uses, so students can get experience with both operating systems.
In introductory courses, students will learn to write programs and work with algorithms, which is a computer science and math word for recipes, Muhl says.
“Computers are really, really dumb, you have to tell them exactly what to do and you can’t skip a step or it won’t come out right — just like baking,” he said.
This computational thinking is one of the biggest challenges for students, he said.
Muhl will teach AP Computer Science and the new computational art class where students will learn to write code to generate images, with some fine-art components. It was developed into a year-long course by Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo professor Zoë Wood, who teaches a similar course at the university.
This class had broader appeal and drew in more female students, which was one of the goals of the program, Jacobs said.
The SBHS Foundation’s grant money is funding curriculum development and equipment for the two lab classrooms.
Academy classes will take over the current AP Computer Science lab and the former MAD Academy space, which is being used by the Robotics Club. The Forge will lose its office in the area to faculty offices.