L to R: Southside High Principal Carlos Brooks; Assistant Superintendent for High Schools Dr. Ken Peake; School Board Member Kenneth Baxter; Blake Coleman; Darryl McCune; Computer Science Teacher Tom Rogers; and Curriculum Resource Teacher Kathleen Stables

This post might be a bit lengthier than usual, but for good reason. It delves into a topic we’re deeply passionate about: computer science, a field we believe holds the key to opportunities for every child and community, embodying the essence of the American Dream.

Ten years ago, our co-founders participated in the inaugural Hour of Code, an event that significantly influenced our journey. Our narrative aims to encourage participation, especially from those who may feel disconnected due to a lack of educational, coding, or technical background.

A Transformative Book, a Dedicated Teacher, and a Visionary Initiative

The story begins in 2013, when Blake Coleman was inspired by Randy Pausch’s ‘The Last Lecture’. The impact of this book, detailing Pausch’s legacy at Carnegie Mellon University and his work on Alice, a programming language designed for education, was profound for Blake. This marked the beginning of his dedication to computer science outreach.

That year, Blake met Tom Rogers, an AP Computer Science teacher at Southside High School in Greenville, SC. Despite limited resources, Tom’s passion for teaching CS was undeniable. At the time, Southside had the only AP CS program within Greenville County Schools and was one of the few AP programs in the state. For reference, back in 2013, South Carolina considered Keyboarding (Typing for us old-schoolers) a CS elective!

Tom had already led students to prestigious CS programs, some even being hired directly from high school to tech giants like Google. Eager to expand CS education, Tom planned to participate in the first Hour of Code, hoping to secure a $10K grant for new computers (only one school per state would win the grant).

Collaboration, Community, and Overcoming Challenges

Tom invited Blake to a CTSA meeting where he was introduced to other CS advocates like Darryl McCune (CommunityCode) and Brian Dean (Clemson University). There, Tom shared his vision.

The plan involved exposing every student to an Hour of Code, followed by the school hosting a community event to highlight the impact of technology and CS education. This initiative predated the popular ‘upskill’ and ‘reskill’ trends, underscoring Tom’s foresight in the value of coding.

That same year, Google launched its CS First program out of Charleston, SC. It was a huge win for the state and for CS initiatives everywhere. At the same time, Google began partnering with Charleston-area schools, intensifying the competition for Hour of Code. It was going to be a daunting task to beat the Google-backed schools.

A Community Effort and a Triumph

The activities planned by Tom, Brian, and Darryl were exceptional. It ensured that every student could participate no matter the grade or technical foundation. In fact, they showed CS principles could be taught even without computers.

Knowing that a major community effort would significantly help the cause, Blake and his coworker Penn Sanders started contacting their local network in the upstate Tech Community. Their efforts (as well as other co-workers) led to quickly rallying support for this cause. They managed to ignite interest and secure commitments from a variety of people and companies in the area. 

The local media assisted as well, spreading the word. And let’s not forget Phil Yanov – his sharing of the event details with the entire Tech After Five community was like a cherry on top.

This was much more than simply spreading the word about Hour of Code; it was about bringing our local tech community together to create excitement and a true sense of camaraderie.

Thanks to the concerted efforts, Southside High School won that first Hour of Code, securing the $10K grant. This victory was a starting point for a deeper engagement in CS outreach.

Ongoing Impact and Outreach

Since that first Hour of Code, our involvement has expanded. We’ve supported initiatives that bring CS to underserved students, offered guidance to coding school students, and aided tech volunteer movements. We’ve also been active in supporting meetups and helping nonprofits focused on underrepresented groups.

Reflecting and Looking Ahead

Inspired by ‘The Last Lecture’, we’ve pondered our legacy and the impact of CS education. This journey, beginning with a simple book and event participation, demonstrates the transformative power of computer science. The field not only offers lucrative career paths but also drives societal progress.

We hope our story inspires others to join CSEdWeek and Hour of Code, potentially changing lives and fostering a new generation of tech talent.

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