Justin Dennison, a teacher at Eastside High School, first heard there were students at the school interested in taking an AP computer science program two years ago. No such courses were being offered at the time because there were no teachers who would teach the course. Not expecting much, Dennison decided he would teach the class.
“The expectation was that it would be a single class with about 15 students,” said Dennison. “But the first year we offered it, I taught about 60 kids.”
That class is part of a program by the Alachua County Public Schools called Web Application Development and Programming. The introductory course is followed by three years of hands on experience using different programming software. At the end of the course, students take an exam that is administered by a third party and if they pass they earn a certificate. Throughout the course, students not only learn how to understand and use different software, they also learn how to develop it.
“The goal of the program is to create (software) that is useful, or enjoyable or entertaining and to prepare students to be very competitive if they decide to go to college or enter the job force right out of high school,” Dennison said.
Any students who have taken or are currently taking Algebra 2 and have a curiosity about computer programming are able to take the courses. This year students who pass the exam will become Oracle Certified Associates in Java Programming. Dennison said the course is demanding of students at times, but the reaction to the course has been mostly positive and that many students have engaged in the course with “great vigor.”
That’s good news for Dr. David Edwards, who is the director of Career and Technical Education for Alachua County Public Schools. He said the program is designed with the help of an advisory committee made up of different business owners in Alachua County and that the program’s focus is “aligned with jobs that exist in the community.”
The advisory committee makes recommendations based off the patterns they see, which allows the school to focus its curriculum on areas with the most need. The goal, according to Edwards, is to have the students complete the program and then fill some of He said he believes the information technology field is so big that other schools in Alachua County will eventually offer similar programs. However, he said other schools wouldn’t offer the same courses because it would create issues.
“We wouldn’t offer the same program somewhere else because we would be providing too many people for the jobs that exists,” said Edwards.
Dennison said that he hopes to generate some interest by having an event at Eastside sometime in December. The event, which he is calling “The Hour or Coding,” will use various computer science activities to gain students’ attention and hopefully expand the program. That would be good news for local businesses.