Parkway e-News Story

Parkway Addresses Shortage of Computer Techs

Parkway is doing its part to address a nationwide shortage of computer programmers and technicians. From elementary school to high school, the district is adding more computer classes to the curriculum to meet the growing demand for ever more coders and technicians. The shortage came to the forefront last December when St. Louis area schools participated in “Hour of Code,” a nationwide initiative that demystified computer science and spotlighted how important computer coders and technicians are to the national workforce.

But even before Hour of Code, Parkway offered strong computer science and coding programs at the middle and high school levels. Then and now, it also offers:

  • An A+ computer maintenance technician program at Fern Ridge High, South High and North High
  • Scratch and Tynker computer coding for seventh- and eighth-grade students in the business curriculum
  • HTML coding in elementary, middle school and high school web design classes This summer, the district is also planning to offer summer school coding camps as an option for students in grades three through eight.

In Fern Ridge High’s newly anointed A+ computer maintenance certification program, students are guaranteed placement in entry level jobs ranging from $45,000 to $65,000 a year after they earn A+ certification and graduate. The school worked with entrepreneur and former teacher Mike Palmer to develop the A+ certification curriculum. Palmer is founder of Code Red, whose mission is to teach computer language, coding and technical skills to elementary, middle and high school students. Palmer also works with Extra Help, an employment agency, to place students in jobs.

“I knew there was growing demand for these computer technicians at companies in St. Louis,” says Fern Ridge High business teacher Paul Schwent. “But I didn’t realize how much of a demand there was until we began working with Michael Palmer.” Schwent’s students, who spend three hours a day on the nine-week, collegiate-level, A+ maintenance program, will likely man help desks at large St. Louis corporations once they graduate, helping people with computer hardware, software and operating systems. “They will be the first line of defense troubleshooting computer problems,” he says.

The program at Fern Ridge High is similar to computer curriculum that has long been in place at South and North high schools. The difference is that South and North High students take computer maintenance courses to earn course credits. They can opt to take the A+ maintenance certification or not. At Fern Ridge, students work exclusively to earn the A + maintenance certification and get placed in jobs after graduation. Because of the partnership with Code Red, all students in Parkway who successfully pass the A+ Certification exam have preferential job preference through Extra Help.

“We still advocate going to college,” says Schwent. “But these skills give students so many more options. Assuming Fern Ridge students want to go on to college, they could work part time in IT help desk jobs that pay $50 an hour to help them pay for college. That sure beats flipping hamburgers.”

In the next 10 years, there is expected to be an explosion of lucrative technology jobs, more than 2 million, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. Computer skills, especially writing computer code, are in demand.

Parkway students are ready to meet that demand.

“I have been teaching HTML code to my fifth-grade students for 15 years,” says Sandra King, MOSAICS teacher at Pierremont Elementary. “Since I teach gifted and only see my students once per week, we work on it about an hour per week. We all love it.”

At Claymont Elementary, teacher Joe Wall incorporates coding in his fifth-grade geometry curriculum. “My students do coding using lightbot,” he says. “I wrapped it into my geometry curriculum because it uses a grid system as well as moves and rotations.”

“The problem solving involved in coding is awesome,” adds Stacy Klohmann, MOSAICS teacher at Henry Elementary, who allows her first-to-fifth-grade students a choice of coding. They can either do Scratch coding or participate in Hour of Code. Both include coding tutorials based on computer science principles; students can work at their own pace or in groups. Klohmann and the students began learning the coding together last school year. “I had some students saying they wanted to do computer programming and write computer games, but I knew NOTHING about programming, so we learned together.”

“I couldn’t figure out something on Scratch and my fourth-graders made me put it on the Smart Board to see where I was stuck. They were able to figure out what I was doing wrong . The students became the teachers. Some of my students are writing a Parkway Alumni Association Dream Grant for programming classes and camps because they are now so into it .”