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East St. Louis computer science class is growing, especially among girls | State and Regional

East St. Louis computer science class is growing, especially among girls | State and Regional

EAST ST. LOUIS — When Josh Cummins went to college, he jumped into the deep end with computer coding classes. It didn’t go well at the time.

But now, the East St. Louis High School math teacher is being recognized for increasing access to computer science classes for girls.

East St. Louis High School is one of 27 schools in the state that earned the College Board Advanced Placement Computer Science Female Diversity Award, which acknowledges schools that have been able to grow the number of girls taking high-level computer classes.

Advanced Placement courses prepare students for a test at the end of the school year that, if passed, can help them earn college credit.

Cummins, who has been in District 189 for nine years and currently heads the math department, first started teaching AP Computer Science about five years ago. His first class had five students, with only one being a girl. This year has has 15 this year, 11 of which are girls.

“It’s traditionally a male and, honestly, mostly white-male dominated class,” Cummins said. “We’re one of the few that’s the opposite, which is really cool. … It’s really cool to see these girls stepping up and showing out for our honors classes.”

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up just 24% of people in computing occupations, while 15% of those employees are Black or Hispanic.

As a white man, Cummins said computer programming provided the opportunity for him to create a curriculum that caters to the Black girls he’s teaching.

“It’s easier with this class than a normal math class, but I really try to build stuff around their interests,” he said. “Social media, music, fashion: That’s all stuff we can do with writing programs.”

Originally, student Savannah Williams was signed up for a statistics class, but was moved to Cummins’ computer science class. She says that’s for the better.

“It suits my personality more and what I want to learn about,” she said. “This is more creative. I can do what I like instead of following a strict line of rules.”

Williams’ classmate, SirNickolas Gilmore-Hardy, said he waited for two years to take the class, which is offered to juniors and seniors.

As the class has grown — mostly through word of mouth — Cummins said they’re looking at ways to expand their course offerings in the next few years. The current class is an introductory class, covering how the internet works and cybersecurity before introducing the students to coding.

For now, Cummins said the high school is in the early stages of looking at an even more introductory class for freshmen to get them exposed earlier, as well as a more advanced class that’s focused entirely on coding and programming.

“They’re getting exposed, a lot of them, to things they didn’t even know existed,” Cummins said. “They’re learning how to code, they’re learning how to build apps on their phone, they’re learning how the internet works. I think that drives them to want to learn more about it, because they’re using that stuff everyday.”