These schools are leading state push to get more students in computer sciences

Bryan Station ramps up computer science offerings

Heather Zoll Eppley, Academy Coach for Academies of Bryan Station, discusses the school's computer science path.
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Heather Zoll Eppley, Academy Coach for Academies of Bryan Station, discusses the school's computer science path.

Using household items such as pipe cleaners, strings and pompoms, Bryan Station High School sophomore Bailey Morgerson and his classmates built models in an advanced placement computer science class last week to understand more about how the internet works.

The class is part of Kentucky’s new initiative to offer courses that could produce more information technology professionals.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt announced Aug. 22 that students will have more quality computer science instruction and requirements. This year Fayette County schools will be on the cutting edge of it with classes at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The state initiative will involve the development of state-based computer science standards that all students will have to meet, and students will be able to get computer science industry certifications.

Bailey wants to either be an IT professional or “I’d like to do something like start my own business.” Either way, he thinks the new class is important to his future. So does Omar Bojang, a senior taking the class who wants to go into medicine or IT.

“Even if I don’t go into IT I know the skills I get in this class will help me,” Omar said.

“When people think of this class they think of coding and programming, and that’s not what this class is,” said Bryan Station High School math teacher Kaci Cohn, who received extra training this summer so she could teach the new high school class called Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles. “It’s a class that covers many topics.”

“We will do some programming. But we also talk about data, and public policy and laws and ethics,” Cohn said. Students will have to investigate a computer innovation, such as a self-driving car, and look at the potential benefits and the potential for harm on society as a whole.

Teachers who already have math, science and career and technical education credentials will get computer science credentials. Additionally, for students, AP Computer Science Principles can count as an elective, a fourth mathematics course, and could meet a science requirement for high school graduation. Also, the course counts toward a career and technical education computer science pathway and could earn a student college credit if they earn a qualifying score on the associated AP exam.

Officials say the high school course can lead to a future in 130 college areas and 48 college majors.

“The United States currently has more than 494,000 unfilled computing jobs, but only 43,000 computer science graduates to fill those jobs,” Pruitt said. “By creating more opportunities for computer science learning, we will reach, keep and engage more students in learning, create a pool of more qualified people to fill existing job openings, and stimulate suppressed economic regions of our state by developing a high-tech, skilled workforce.”

As part of the initiative, the Kentucky Department of Education is working with Fayette and 33 other school districts and seven Area Technology Centers this year to provide access to expanded computer science learning opportunities.

Cohn said 45 students signed up for the Bryan Station High class. School officials decided to limit the number to 25 the first time it was offered to provide one on one instruction, but hope they can offer it to more students soon. On Friday, students translated what they had learned by building the models into an actual computer.

“What’s really great” about the advanced computer science class, said Bryan Station High Academy Coach Heather Zoll Eppley, is that it’s open to students in all of Bryan Station’s career academies, not just the IT Academy. Eppley said a grant the school received will pay for the $94 fee associated with the advanced placement test for the course.

A group called is working with its local partner AdvanceKentucky to prepare 50 teachers each year for three years for the high school AP Computer Science Principles course as well as expanding preparation for its middle school course, Computer Science Discoveries, and its elementary school course, Computer Science Fundamentals.

The partners plan to offer the new AP Computer Science Principles course in at least 150 additional high schools statewide

Elementary and middle schools that feed into Bryan Station High School will also have new computer classes and training for teachers, including Winburn Middle and Lexington Traditional Middle School and Mary Todd Elementary and Arlington Elementary, said Amy Johns, the district’s coordinator of instructional technology.

“Long-term hopefully this is something we’ll see across the district,” Johns said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears