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Brookhaven High, Co-Lin participating in new coding academy program

Twenty high school districts and community colleges, including Brookhaven High School and Co-Lin, have agreed to participate in a new pilot program that will use curriculum developed from a coding academy to “fast track” the creation of hundreds of new academic and computer science career opportunities, a press release from C Spire stated Monday.

The new program, called the C Spire Software Development Pathway, will start in the 2019-2020 school year and is a public-private partnership between C Spire and the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit’s new Center for Cyber Education.

“We’re really excited that our kids are going to be able to take advantage of this in this type of high-tech field and at the same time, many of them will be able to walk away after two years and get a good job,” said Brookhaven School District Superintendent Ray Carlock.

Students in the pilot program can earn an associates degree of applied science after two years of specialized course work in high school and just one additional year in community college. More than 150 students are expected to participate in the first year.

Brookhaven is one of only nine high school districts participating in the program. Others are Booneville, Gulfport, Laurel, Meridian, Starkville-Oktibbeha, Oxford, Lafayette, Newton, Lee and Rankin counties. Community colleges partnering with high schools include Copiah-Lincoln, East Mississippi, Gulf Coast, Hinds, Itawamba, Jones, Meridian, Northeast and Northwest.

“Co-Lin is committed to working with C Spire and the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit’s new Center for Cyber Education on developing curriculum for coding,” said Co-Lin President Jane Hulon.

Curriculum for the pilot program was derived from Base Camp Coding Academy, a non-profit coding academy that started a 12-month specialized computer coding training regimen for select high school students in 2016. Every graduate of the program, now in its third year, has received job offers from multiple employers.

The pilot program will be fully funded in the first year and partially funded in the second and third years by C Spire. The program will offer curriculum in coding, project management, collaboration and web design.

The stated goal of the three-year program is to deliver 93 percent more Mississippi graduates qualified for entry-level software development jobs than current programs.

The program plans to schedule an initial set of recruiting tours this month at participating high schools for interested students and potential local business and community group partners, along with summer workshops for teachers and community college instructors to discuss curriculum, job shadowing and real-world class projects for program participants.

C Spire representatives last year visited Brookhaven to talk about the benefits of coding academies.

“They can start college with a leg up and dive deeper into their career paths, or if a student doesn’t want to go to college, it will give them a shot at a great career,” public relations manager Scott Parenteau said at a meeting then. “We’ll definitely see economic growth and an expanding workforce.”

Bill Jacobs, a member of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce’s Industrial Development Foundation, helped organize the meeting between C Spire reps and members of the IDF.

“This is a proud accomplishment for Brookhaven Schools and Copiah-Lincoln Community College for it allows Southwest Mississippi to be on the cutting edge of a new computer technology program here in Mississippi,” Jacobs said following C Spire’s announcement Monday. “It allows this area to be a leader in a vital area of education and training.

“This effort started a little over a year ago with Brookhaven school superintendent Ray Carlock and Co-Lin President Jane Hulon seeing and understanding the importance of such program for local students. Qualifying for the C Spire program was no easy task, so my hat is off to both Ray and Dr. Hulon and their staffs for making this happen. As this program matures and more students become involved, Brookhaven and Lincoln County will benefit with a pool of trained workers whom new and emerging industries are already desperately needing.”

C Spire representatives gave stats as proof of why computer science and coding are needed in the state’s high schools. Mississippi ranks 49th in technology, 49th in internet access and only 7 percent of Magnolia State high schools offer A&P computer science coursework. Meanwhile, there are almost 1,000 computing jobs open in Mississippi, but all the state’s major colleges combined turn out around 155 computer science graduates per year. The nation, likewise, is graduating around 40,000 computer science students per year to fill an estimated half-million computing jobs.

“There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm to make this approach a success for our state,” said Shelly Hollis, assistant director of the MSU Research and Curriculum Unit’s Center for Cyber Education. “We are using a creative, out-of-the-box approach to meet the real-world needs of students to land better jobs and for employers have more qualified workers now.”