There are some interesting myths about middle school students. As a school Superintendent, I hear them all the time:
- Middle school kids think they know everything
- Middle school kids just don’t like school
- Middle school kids are never engaged in learning
But I see the light in their eyes…the one that shines when they are engaged in learning and excited about hands-on fun in the classroom, when they forget, if just for a moment, about being “cool.” My desire to positively impact middle school students while they are at an impressionable point in their lives is in alignment to the mission of American Student Assistance® (ASA). And, from the first meeting with ASA® staff, I believe a perfect match was forged. Hopedale was looking to develop a middle school computer science pathway and ASA was looking to fund grant opportunities. Our partnership and friendships have paved the way for innovative learning for students.
Through the support of ASA, we have been able to offer high-quality science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) to seventh and eighth grade students. Every one of our middle school students has been involved in designing algorithms, coding, sensor input and mechanics in relation to robotics. We believe our students’ experiences will help them make informed decisions about new high school computer science courses and possible future careers.
The transformation that certain classes and experiences bring to a school are extraordinary. Within just one year, the excitement I see in our students daily when I walk down the hallway is both wonderful and rewarding. Kids are in hallways trying out robots and automobiles they have designed, built and programmed. I see the collaboration of our kids working out complex problems, I see teachers releasing responsibility of problem solving to our children and I see kids taking risks and not being afraid to make mistakes.
The results of the first year of implementation for our seventh and eighth grade computer science Explore classes have been significant: an impressive 65 percent of our students were satisfied/somewhat satisfied with the experience, and for middle school students to admit to being satisfied with a class is exceptional! After taking this class, 42 percent stated, “I now have an interest in careers that involve science & technology” and 43 percent stated that after taking this class, “I now have an interest in careers that involve computer science.”
Before 2017, there was no in-school opportunity to experience a computer science pathway, despite Hopedale having higher than average technical services employers, and computer and mathematical occupations in Massachusetts. To provide students in middle school with a chance to include computer science in their career exploration is an enormous benefit to them. Another issue we hoped to combat with the introduction of these classes was the high number of students who enter college without a clear understanding of computer science, despite declaring it as a major. Our survey results revealed 23 percent of students stated, “While I enjoyed the class, it helped me understand that I would not want to pursue this subject as a career.” This knowledge is just as critical as finding the right career path.
This is just the beginning of our work with American Student Assistance. We believe our relationship with ASA will be a collaborative one for many years to come. So much has already been accomplished in year one, and we are certain we will continue to build our program and offerings together. Our collaboration with ASA is an exceptional example of how the support and investment of our local businesses can lead to impactful change with our schools. I am confident that a change like this in our schools will lead to future positive impact not only for our students, but for our college and business communities as well.