These technologists designed a compsci curriculum. Now a charter school is teaching it - Technical.ly DC

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Oct. 10, 2016 11:38 am

These technologists designed a compsci curriculum. Now a charter school is teaching it

Washington Leadership Academy opened its doors this fall and is piloting a program developed by nonprofit STEMLY.

The first day of school at Washington Leadership Academy..

(Courtesy photo)

The crew behind STEMLY, Philip Stephen and brothers Duane and Devon Rollins, spent two years developing a tech curriculum for Washington Leadership Academy, a new charter school in Brookland that’s already receiving accolades.

Their favorite moment so far?

“The first day of school – hands down,” said Stephen, who recalled the excitement of the incoming students.

“Ditto,” said Duane Rollins.

Devon Rollins said the same, too: The first day, “when the kids referred to us as ‘those cool guys.’”

Last year, we told you about how the trio launched local edtech nonprofit STEMLY in 2014 to become a “belly button for people who create STEM-related content” targeted at underserved students. The crew wanted to help youth find a pathway to tech, as they have: Duane Rollins does UX and design for the federal government’s 18F, Devon Rollins is a cyber-economics consultant at Ernst & Young and Stephen works in DevOps for liquidation company Liquidity Services.

We caught up with them to see how the curriculum was faring. (They don’t teach the classes; teachers at WLA do.)

According to Stephen, most of STEMLY’s big ideas have been incorporated into WLA’s final curriculum over the two years they’ve spent brainstorming together. Now students are offered the following:

  • Concentrations in coding, design or infrastructure.
  • Web development training.
  • Ability to focus on data.
  • Industry certifications like Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Adobe Certified Expert (ACE), Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA).
  • The ability to take the AP (advanced placement) computer science exam.

You can check out the open-sourced curriculum for freshmen on GitHub.

Dr. Britney McCoy, Director of Educational Experiences; Duane Rollins, Co-Founder; Philip Stephen, Co-Founder; Sarah Bowers, Volunteer; Devon Rollins, Co-Founder

The STEMLY crew. (Courtesy photo)

And as for what the students think of it?

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Computer science is a class favorite, they said, especially thanks to a cryptography project the STEMLY cofounders organized with the computer science teacher. The students’ reactions were captured on this CBS segment.

The Washington Leadership Academy is a charter school with an emphasis on technology. The D.C. Public Charter School Board approved WLA in 2015, making this fall semester their inaugural class.

Since WLA opened, the school has been named an XQ Super School, through which it received $10 million from philanthropist (and wife to the late Steve JobsLaurene Powell Jobs to experiment with different kinds of education. Watch the school’s XQ Super School spotlight below.

Duane Rollins said STEMLY is excited about how the curriculum has been working so far.

“We started this with only the mindset of, ‘How can we be most helpful?’ And the work we’ve been able to do to date is beyond what my initial imagination was,” he said.

The journey to this curriculum was not without challenges: Stephen told us that STEMLY and the WLA team put in long hours and that goals needed to be adjusted along the way. But for STEMLY, overcoming those challenges was a matter of putting the scientific method to the test.

“This process has reinforced the notion that if you set out to some good in the world, to add some value, you have to ideate, test and [iterate] on what works.” Devon Rollins explained. “That lifecycle has [its] frustrations, but it’s a proven approach.”

Stephen, Duane and Devon Rollins are busy fleshing out the next three years for students at WLA. So far the plans include independent, capstone projects for seniors, and internships with local organizations for juniors.

“We’re still building out that final list since we’re two years away,” Duane Rollins said. “But we’re gonna be proud the day we can welcome some of the students to work with us at STEMLY.”

In addition to continuing their work with WLA, STEMLY is seeking to partner with more schools and possibly a meetup focused on Black developers.

Organizations: STEMLY
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