Two New Courses Proposed at Greenwich High School

At Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting Greenwich Schools administration proposed two new courses for Greenwich High School starting in the 2020-21 school year. The first was Honors Advanced Topics in Computer Science.

The computer course would be geared toward students who successfully complete AP Computer Science A and want to learn more.

Last year about 45 students enrolled in full year computer science courses, of which about 12 were seniors.

This year there are 50 students are in full year computer science courses, of which 15 are seniors.

During last year’s course selection process, about 12 AP Computer Science A students asked about advanced courses for this year. Since there was no further course in the curriculum, they were encouraged to pursue independent study.

More middle school students arrive at the high school with a foundation in computer science, entering at an advanced level.

In fact, currently there are two freshmen enrolled in the AP javaScript Computer Science Principles course.

Since the GHS computer science reboot six years ago, enrollment in computer science courses has grown steadily, with over 170 students taking courses this year.

There are three clubs: Programming Club, CyberPatriot and Girls Who Code.

GHS clubs and teams are receiving awards and recognition on a national level.

BOE member Peter Sherr said he comes from this industry.  “I’m kind of going to be geeky about this,” he apologized.

“I don’t think our high school should be doing technical education, because I don’t think we’re the best equipped to do that,” he said. “I understand teachers and administration cringe every time I say that.”

Mr. Sherr said he wasn’t about creating a job for a GHS teacher or not.

“If the first thing a person tells you is, ‘I’m here for the kids,’ and I guarantee the next thing out of their mouth is not about kids,” he continued. “AP, by definition, is supposed to be college level work. Are there students who need a progression beyond that while they are still in Greenwich Public Schools.”

Sherr questioned whether a student who takes AP computer science in grade 11 even needs to do more in grade 12.

“Is the better answer making an arrangement with UConn Stamford? Is the better answer making an arrangement with AITE than us trying to do this ourselves?” he asked.

Also, Mr. Sherr asked about the objective of the computer sciences track.

“Is it to prepare a student to be a computer science major in a four year university? “Or is it pre-work for someone to get a job directly?  Or is it for them to go to a technical school?” he wondered.

Irene Parisi, Chief Academic Officer for Greenwich Schools, said there is a need for coursework beyond the AP course beyond independent study.

Katherine Bolger explained the interest in an additional, advanced, computer sciences class at Greenwich High School. January 16, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

“We are trying to prepare the students for any post secondary experience that they choose,” Parisi said. “It’s really all of the above.”

Katherine Bolger, a GHS math teacher who was the primary author of the proposed course, said she had researched both AITE and at UConn’s ECE program (Early College Experience).

“They (UConn) don’t offer a college credit option for people who complete an AP course plus some other work,” she said. “At GHS we have some ECE options, but Computer Science is not one of them.”

The rational for the computer class mentions that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an annual job growth rate of 13% (over 500,000 new jobs annually) in this field through 2026, an average growth rate greater than any other field tracked, and research has shown that prior exposure to computer science is a top factor contributing to students choosing to study computer science in college.

Karen Kowalski, Peter Bernstein and Greenwich Schools superintendent Dr. Toni Jones. January 16, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

Further, in six years since the computer science reboot at GHS, three clubs – Programming Club, CyberPatriot and Girls Who Code – and 3 competitions  – CyberPatriot, American Computer Science League and Girls Go CyberStart! – have also grown from nothing to more than 100 student participants.

“What do you think kids need? Mr. Sherr asked Ms. Bolger, who replied that GHS is trying to prepare students for a variety of options.

“This course would be more oriented toward someone who is thinking about the four-year college track. I think a student leaving GHS – if they’ve followed our path – they will know some web design, have done javaScript, HTML and CSS – those are the three languages primarily used in web design. They’ll have completed an AP course in Java.”

Ms Bolger said since the school did the reboot six years earlier, Python had overtaken javaScript as one of the most popular languages.

“For a student to leave GHS with HTML, CSS, javaScript, Java and Python is huge.” – Katherine Bolger, GHS math teacher

Ms Bolger said that even just since Christmas parents have inquired about Python options at GHS.

“Whether they will get a job – these students operating at this level, and learning these languages.

Clearly they are sharp, motivated students who could probably land some kind of a job.

It’s not like a kid doing a Cisco Certification. That’s a different ballgame. That career path is different, it’s not a four-year path, but a certification. At AITE they would want to do something like a Cisco certification.” – Kate Bolger GHS math teacher

“That’s a really good answer,” Sherr said, going on to ask if any other districts are allowing students to take a coding language in lieu of a foreign language requirement.

“That’s come up before. There is a task force looking at that at the state level” Parisi said. Right now we can’t do that and meet state requirements.”

“I’m not sure it’s a good or bad idea, Sherr said.

The second proposed course would be called Yoga, Mindfulness and Stress Management.

Lil Perrone, Program Associate, said GHS does offer Yoga Instruction as a PE class.

“This proposed would be an elective in the department,” she said. “Right now they really don’t have a choice and that’s what we’re trying to create here.”

Mr Sherr said the board is focused on raising academic achievement as well as reducing anxiety and depression, and making kids more mindful.

“Can you take this instead of wellness?” he asked. “How does it work?”

GHS Assistant Headmaster Rick Piotrowski said beginning next year, the class would be an elective for juniors and seniors in lieu of PE class.

“Knowing we’re bumping up against class sizes and we’re not getting additional staff at Greenwich High School,” BOE chair Peter Bernstein said. “And knowing the additional graduation requirements in place, plus the bump you’re going to see in student enrollment, how are you balancing all that?”

“We are monitoring enrollment in all courses very closely,” Ms Parisi said.

“It’s a big puzzle here,” Mr. Piotrowski said. “I wish I could project everything that’s going to happen in the next couple years.”

Piotrowski said sometimes, if there aren’t enough students signed up for a class, they cancel it.

“We’re mindful of what courses we have not run. Maybe, after one or two years there is a course that hasn’t run, but I know these courses might pick up. It’s always on the back of  my mind. This is something we definitely keep an eye on.”

The proposed new courses will come up as action items on the BOE agenda for the February meeting.