With the demand for technology, Wyoming grows concerned with student’s education

Melissa Peterson melissa@glenrockind.com

When computer science courses were first introduced into schools, they were unfamiliar and seemed unnecessary at times. Although, in today’s world, the world’s economy and the job market is heavily dependent on computers and the demand for technology. For students, from their first days of school to graduation, if they are not being equipped in their education on how to live, work or even get a job in a society that is making technological strides every day, they could be missing out.
Converse County Commissioners Robert Short and Tony Lehner recognized the need to improve the computer science education programs across Wyoming and have decided to advocate to anyone who will listen, focusing their attention in Glenrock and Douglas. Commissioner Short went before the Douglas School District board March 13, where he noted on the importance of these programs and how it is our duty to ensure the students are receiving the best opportunity to learn and grow in this field.
It started with his own love for science, and the positive impact it had on his life starting more than twenty years ago. While living in Japan from 1992-1994, he set up the very first Ethernet network in Japan at the Institute of Technology, as well as being a part of creating the first one-inch hard drive for laptops alongside companies such as Microsoft, Apple and IBM.
“Through computer sciences, I was able to experience a vast world that I otherwise did not have the opportunity to explore,” Short said.
For the last three years, every time he has the opportunity to bring it before state educators, commissioners and politicians, he has brought to their attention the importance of a strong science education in the growing world. He pointed out how Wyoming is known for its natural resources, but if graduating students are seeking a career in the sciences, they usually leave Wyoming due to the opportunity not being here and revealing the other side of outsourcing projects and science-related work to other states where they have the opportunities and training.
“In Wyoming, unfortunately, we are dramatically behind, technologically speaking in the education realm for our kids,” Short said. “We’re back in the 1970’s, compared to the rest of the country who has their kids in the 21st century.
He knows people are trying to make advancements, but awareness is a crucial role he wishes to see take place.
At the recent Wyoming County Commissioners Association meeting in mid-February, Dennis Elsis, who works for the Microsoft Tech Spark Project, attended. While there, Ellis presented the Teals project, where they help lead and develop the curriculum for computer sciences in the classroom. They also partner with teachers and tech industry volunteers to give students the best education opportunity for computer sciences in their own schools.
This is a key role, due to the looming budget cuts in schools, many wonder how they could afford to see something like this take place. By teaming up with projects such as Teals, the idea becomes more of a possibility. Short notes again the importance of partnering with projects, because at the end of the day, it’s about the students, and ensuring they are given the best opportunities to learn and adapt in the growing world.

A brighter future
As it stands today, computer science will likely be taught in all Wyoming schools in the coming years, thanks to a bill passed last week. The bill would place computer science into both the common core of skills and the common core of knowledge. The skills component are areas that are taught across subjects — like critical thinking. The common core of knowledge, meanwhile, is often its own subject area, which is why computer science will have its own state-developed standards for it.
“This is landmark legislation,” Wyoming Department of Education Superintendent Jillian Balow said Monday following the bill’s passing. “By and large and in many ways, we’re pioneers of this. That’s a really exciting place to be.”
The measure, which has been sent to Gov. Matt Mead for final approval, will fold computer science into the state’s educational program. It will become one of several areas — such as math and science — that will have its own content standards, created by state educators.
Balow said the work to build enthusiasm for computer science began years ago and was initially met with disinterest.
“I broached the idea with (the Joint Education Committee) about two and a half years ago during the interim and didn’t get any traction whatsoever,” she said.
But as months went by, educators, business leaders, and the tech industry voiced support. Not only was computer science a chance to add to a Wyoming student’s education, but it could also help provide a sorely needed workforce. At the time, the state was going through another energy bust, and officials were looking for ways to diversify Wyoming’s economy.
Sen. Hank Coe (R-Park), the chairman of the education committee that sponsored the bill, told his fellow lawmakers last month that he had heard from a tech official that there were “$30 million worth of (computer science) jobs in Wyoming that are unfilled.”
During the interim months between legislative sessions, lawmakers on two education committees put forward legislation to codify computer science into Wyoming’s schools. Balow said that while the state Department of Education supported both measures, education officials leaned more toward the eventually successful Senate measure.
With all of this taking place, Short is excited to see the same passion for science that impacted his life, be offered to students. His vision is not only for the communities of Glenrock and Douglas but hopes to see this take place in schools across Wyoming.


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