Boosting middle school computer science curriculum anchors a multi-stage strategy developed at Le Moyne College to help revitalize the economy in Syracuse, New York.
The college is home to ERIE 21—or “Educating for Our Rising Innovation Economy in the 21st century”—a collaboration that includes state, city and county government, the Syracuse City School District and local high-tech firms.
The initiative emerged as city businesses experienced difficulty filling jobs with local applicants or attracting potential employees to move to central New York, says William Brower, Le Moyne’s vice president for communications and advancement.
The college also felt called to action by the consistently poor performance of Syracuse’s eighth graders on the state’s algebra exams.
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Le Moyne also has data that shows when K-12 students’ grades, graduation rates, and likelihood of going on to higher education improve when they are exposed to college programs, he says.
“This is not about testing, this is about getting young people excited about math and quantitative skills and showing them the future—like why is it important to do well in math,” Brower said.
Le Moyne is partnering with the Syracuse City School District to develop middle and high school curriculum in various technology subjects, quantitative reasoning and social-emotional learning, says Amanda Miles, the director of ERIE 21.
The college also offers a “quantitative thinking village” summer camp where middle schoolers work on projects such as building robots and debugging computer programs.
High school students in the program will meet with business leaders and other local organizations who can help them begin setter their sights on future careers, Miles says.
The college’s priority is to gather a diverse group of professionals to speak to students, she says.
College students participating in ERIE 21 get more learning experiences outside the classroom. Le Moyne will also launch a new academic program in software systems science to meet the needs of area businesses looking for employees with computational reasoning and coding skills.
“The tech industry is overwhelmingly white and male,” Miles said. “We are trying to buck that trend, and help make sure students are prepared to enter a workspace that wasn’t something that they thought they could do.”
Keeping Le Moyne competitive
ERIE 21 is not a “one-way street” type of program that will only benefit students and the regional economy—the initiative should also help the college remain competitive, Brower says.
Colleges and universities across the nation are looking for new revenues streams and in the Northeast, in particular, institutions are competing to enroll a declining number of high school graduates.
The new ERIE 21 academic programs, while designed with underrepresented students in mind, could also attract more affluent students to campus.
Also, the initiative’s level of public funding is motivating private donors to make substantial contributions, Brower says.