Diversity & Inclusion
Career development / Education / STEM / Tech jobs

Exceptional Philadelphia teacher wins award for computer science impact

CS4Philly also recognized a staff member at Launchpad, a youth workforce development program that supplements traditional education

Anita Romano winning the Sustained Impact Award (Sarah Huffman/Technical.ly)

For Anita Romano, being recognized as an exceptional computer science teacher is really a win for her students.

They’re doing the hard work and she’s representing them, the Philadelphia School District veteran said — while also showing them the doors computer science could open for their futures.

Romano has been teaching for 30 years, and she helped launch the computer science program at Northeast High School. Its biggest benefit, she believes, is showing students how integrated computers are in their everyday lives and how much they can do with those tools. Knowing how to use a computer is important for all careers these days: 92% of jobs require digital skills, according to a report from the National Skills Coalition.

“I think my biggest problem is getting the children from knowing that this is a phone and they can text, to realizing it’s a small computer and they have the world at their hands,” Romano told Technical.ly.

Romano was honored at CS4Philly’s CS Teacher Awards last month as the winner of the Sustained Impact Award.

Women earned 21% of computer science bachelor’s degrees in the US last year — a notable decline from a high of 37% in the mid-80s

CS4Philly advocates for increased access to computer science education and supports educators in the space. Founded in 2017, it’s part of CS4All, a national campaign to expand computer science education. The local org also works with Jumpstart Philly CS4All, a research practitioner partnership that helps more educators get certified to teach computer science. This was its fifth year recognizing local educators with the CS Teacher Awards.

CS4Philly often works with teachers in the Philadelphia School District, but the awards also acknowledge educators filling the gaps outside of school.

This year, Nick Imparato from tech workforce development org Launchpad won the Early Achievement Award

“It’s a good recognition of the work that we do,” Imparato said. “It feels validating in a way. We’re not accredited by an institution in the same way that school teachers are, but I believe that the CS education work that we do is on par with any of the super amazing work that’s happening in high schools.”

Computer science education opens doors

Romano, the 30-year veteran who won the sustainability award, regularly discusses with her class the financial and career opportunities they could have by following a computer science track.

She’s also passionate about advocating for more women in the field. As of last year, women earned 21% of CS bachelor’s degrees in the United States, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project — a notable decline from a high of 37% in the mid-1980s.

Three people standing together indoors; the person in the center holds a plaque. The person on the right is speaking into a microphone.

Nick Imparato winning the Early Achievement Award. (Sarah Huffman/Technical.ly)

Romano’s school is bucking that trend. This year it was one of four in Philly to win the AP Computer Science Female Diversity award, which recognizes schools that have 50% or more female students taking computer science AP exams. Girls who take AP computer science in high school are five times more likely to major in it in college, the College Board found.

Of the 50-plus high schools in the School District of Philadelphia, about half offer computer science courses. Romano would like to see more robust intro courses at the middle-school level, she said. Currently, 112 elementary and middle schools offer a Digital Literacy and Technology course, which combines computer science with general digital media literacy.

Every student in the school district has access to a chromebook, but teachers also need to use the technology available to its fullest extent and show students all the different things they can do with computers to increase interest, Romano said.

Launchpad provides some of that hands-on experience. The nonprofit offers a three-year program with classroom education and work experience for young adults looking to enter the tech industry.

A computer science education has the potential to break down barriers to wealth for Black and brown families in Philadelphia, said Imparato, the other CS4Philly winner. Tech jobs are usually well paid and can often be done from anywhere, making them valuable. The average salary for someone in a computer science job in Pennsylvania is $80,544 according to ZipRecruiter. Currently, only 9% of computer science degrees are earned by Black people, according to Pew Research.

Imparato sees his students actively engaging in lessons and projects because they’re working towards a specific career and a future with options.

“I really like that aha moment,” Imparato said. “You can literally see the look on their faces when they see what’s happening behind the scenes in something that has become so second nature and natural to them.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Launchpad / School District of Philadelphia

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