Computer science teachers. English teachers. Art teachers. Social studies teachers. Big schools. Small schools.
The group of educators gathered at Arkansas Tech University for the 2021 Arkansas Computer Science and Computing Educator Academy (ACSCEA) is representative of the variety found in Arkansas schools and Arkansas communities.
"I love the diversity of backgrounds," said Johnny Key, commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, while addressing the program participants on Thursday, June 17. "I think we have covered about all of the traditional areas of teaching. You are here because you want to do something that is important. It's important because our world has changed drastically. We must have students who are prepared to live in that world and do good with the technology that is out there. The governor has been very clear --- because our world has changed, Arkansas needs to be at the forefront and is now at the forefront of computer science education."
ACSCEA, which is overseen by the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) Office of Computer Science, is providing more than 20 Arkansas residents who are employed by an Arkansas public school district or intend to teach within an Arkansas public school district with tuition-free access to six credit hours of graduate study.
According to information provided by ADE, program participants are learning basic computer science, receive preparation for passing the Computer Science Content Knowledge Praxis exam, gain approval to teach high school computer science courses, earn post-secondary credits for academy completion and expand skills in specialized areas aligned to state-adopted programs of study.
Grant funds from ADE are covering the costs of enrollment and tuition for all participants.
The roster of educators participating in the program includes Rebecca Ayers, Jessica Blair, Thomas Carreira, Anita Cegers-Coleman, Debra Charvat, Cheryl Cox, Megan Harley Dean, Renee Fernimen, Rachel Fish, Dylan Glover, Tracy Griffin, Kawia Higginbottom, Sheila Hopson, Jo Keeney, John Maxwell, Sheri Maxwell, Blake Medlock, Mark Mitchell, Desha Nelson, Darrell Shaw, Jodi Taintor and Ginger Wray.
Anthony Owen, state director of computer science for the Arkansas Department of Education, and a team that includes Mark Barnes, Jim Furniss, Kelly Griffin, Eli McRae and Zack Spink are helping facilitate and deliver the curriculum. Spink is serving as the primary instructor.
Dr. Allison Roberts, senior education advisor for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, met with the participants on Thursday, June 17, and was present for Key's remarks.
Participants will be required to complete a total of three weeks (90 hours) of training and will have multiple options to choose from for the final week, which will be provided by the ADE Office of Computer Science during July.
The two Arkansas Tech classes (INFT 5403 and INFT 6903) are aligned to courses within the ATU Master of Science degree in information technology. The degree is offered by the ATU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences under the auspices of the ATU Department of Computer and Information Science.
Sarah Burnett, who serves as STEM project coordinator within the ATU Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, is the project coordinator for ACSCEA 2021.
Key expressed his appreciation to Arkansas Tech for its collaboration in making the ACSCEA possible.
"This came about really quickly," said Key. "We birthed an idea, and it happened because of a great partnership with Arkansas Tech. A lot of great things came together to make this happen."