Partnership brings computer education to Bristol, Wise students
A new partnership is preparing Southwest Virginia middle and high school students for tomorrow’s tech jobs.
As part of the United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Ignite Technology Talent Development program funded through GO Virginia Region 1, middle and high school students in Bristol and Wise County will learn about careers in computer science this academic year. Some participants will intern for companies in the region and take dual-enrollment classes at community colleges.
The United Way has teamed with Richmond-based nonprofit CodeVA on the initiative. CodeVA has provided free professional development for approximately 3,500 teachers in coding and other computer skills, part of an existing collaboration with the state Department of Education to train teachers in the discipline. Virginia was the first state to mandate that students in kindergarten through eighth grade receive computer science instruction.
Computer science opportunities for students are particularly important in coal country, which is economically impacted by population decline and the decline of the mining industry, says Travis Staton, president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Virginia.
“We have our challenges. We are a rural community with lots of poverty and dependence on an energy sector that allows people to have minimal education and high-paying jobs,” Staton says. “But that sector is closing. So how do you prepare a workforce for the future? You start early in the education system.”
Beginning this fall, we want students to “make informed choices about career fields they might pursue,” says Chris Dovi, executive director of CodeVA. “We are giving students exposure and meaningful experience in those subject areas and encouraging them to choose those careers.”
The coronavirus pandemic has created challenges in offering the program, but the plan is to go forward with in-person and online instruction, depending on the school systems’ policies. This summer, CodeVA delivered free instruction to more than 1,000 Virginia teachers, including some who attended programs administered by the Abingdon-based Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, which will also be involved with Ignite Tech Talent.
With more than 1,300 information technology jobs projected to be created in Southwest Virginia over the next 10 years, the Ignite program is likely to have a significant reach, Staton says. “This is only going to get bigger and better.”