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Santa Barbara High School Initiates New Computer Science Program

Santa Barbara High School Principal John Becchio has announced the opening of a new computer science program that will focus on building programming skills to prepare students for careers in software engineering, a rapidly growing field.

The number of computer science courses will grow from the two courses offered currently to five starting in 2014, including a course in mobile programming using iOS and an innovative new course that combines fine art and programming.

The new courses are available to all students, and there will also be an option for a three- to four-year “CS Intensive” program for up to 20 students per grade. An open house to explain the details of the program to prospective students and parents is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13 in Room 25.

Principal Becchio cites the huge unmet need for software engineers as one reason for the move.

“There will be over 1.4 million new computer science jobs in the U.S. over the next 10 years, but the U.S. will only graduate 400,000 computer science majors in the same period,” he said.

In spite of the huge demand for software engineers, only 2,100 of the nation’s 42,000 high schools offer computer science programs, and although about 350,000 high school students take the AP Calculus exam each year, by comparison, only about 21,000 students take the AP Computer Science exam, with 79 percent of them being male.

Paul Muhl, a software engineer and analyst at Toyon, is teaching the AP Computer Science course at Santa Barbara High, and was recruited to lead the program. He is working with Cal Poly computer science professor Zoe Wood to develop the new art course which will use innovative, “easy to use” software that allows students to understand the “big picture of computer science” and create sophisticated programs without mastering the complex details normally associated with coding. By teaching the big picture first, they hope to attract a larger number of students, especially females, to computer science.

“One of our primary goals is to encourage students who wouldn’t ordinarily consider computer science,” Muhl said. “Moreover, we believe computer science is foundational. It develops students’ computational and critical thinking skills and shows them how to create, not simply use, new technologies. This fundamental knowledge is needed to prepare students for the 21st century, regardless of their ultimate field of study or occupation.”

Santa Barbara High will also offer a summer course called C Programming for Robotics, open to current students interested in getting a leg up on programming for the regular school year. Students who take this course will also be well positioned to participate in the school’s Robotics Club. Robotics Club students participate in a regional competition each spring, with the focus on programming small robots (built from kits) to do complicated maneuvers.

To RSVP for the open house or learn more, please visit the school’s website for the new computer science program by clicking here.

A nonprofit foundation has been set up to support the new computer science initiative at Santa Barbara High. Interested volunteers should email [email protected].

— Barbara Keyani is the administrative services and communications coordinator for the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

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