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California Teacher Makes Computer Science More Accessible

Noticing a gap in female participation in computer science, teacher Deanna Barron helped create Code Queens. The afterschool program brought together mentors from Cal State San Marcos and students at Escondido High School in southern California to design online games and present them in groups.

Barron, an AP Computer Science Principles teacher at Escondido and NMSI’s November teacher of the month, has seen significant growth in females and students of color participating in her class since it became a course offering three years ago. In year one, the class was less than 30 percent female and 50 percent Latino, while Escondido’s overall school population is almost 80 percent Latino.

With three years of recruitment, promoting Code Queens and other dedicated work, Barron helped the computer science course grow to 40 percent female and 70 percent Latino. While she eventually wants the course’s enrollment to match the school demographics, Barron moved the needle in a short amount of time. She also grew the course from one classroom of students to five.

“The fact that I’m female and Hispanic myself – I hope that encourages students that otherwise wouldn’t take it,” Barron says. “Some think computer science sounds scary, but it’s not. Anyone can do it.”

When computer science became an option at Escondido, there wasn’t a question that she wanted to teach the class. When in college, she took a computer science course and “really loved the challenge. It’s trying to solve a puzzle, and there’s an amazing sense of accomplishment when a program works.”  

At Escondido, Barron’s favorite class assignment is when students design a big program together as a group. Each student in the group takes on a piece of the program, helping each other along the way. In the end, they put their program together.

“They learn really amazing problem-solving skills by creating a big program that they maybe wouldn’t be able to do on their own but can do it together,” Barron says.

Another class favorite is when students design a landscape. Some chose to create scenes from the movies “A Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Tangled.” Others set the scene for Japanese cherry blossoms and a volcano.

Since all students at Escondido are working remotely, the biggest challenge Barron has faced this year is building relationships with them. She puts extra effort into having one-on-one conversations and sending home positive postcards to students as a way to show her appreciation and build their confidence.

“What makes her so successful is the relationships she builds with the kids and the community she builds in the classroom,” says Escondido Principal Adriana Lepe-Ramirez about Barron. "It allows students to take academic risks they normally wouldn't feel comfortable doing." 

Before school started this year, Barron participated in NMSI’s online Summer Series teacher training, where she connected with other computer science teachers across the country. “It was really helpful and enabled me to think through technology and different aspects of teaching in a distance learning environment before the year started,” she says.

Barron appreciates the NMSI fall and spring training days because it takes sample AP exam responses and grades them together – line by line – so that she is more prepared to help students fully understand best practices for responding.

Despite the challenging year, Barron is finding hope during “those times when my students turn on their camera to say good morning or tell me computer science is their favorite class or they love coding. It’s tough to build connections now, but those moments make me happy.”