Dear Congress, Give Leila the Opportunity to Learn Computer Science

04/26/2016 03:38 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2017

On Tuesday April 26th, America’s leading CEOs, governors, and educators united to support an open letter to Congress, asking for funding to provide every student in every school the opportunity to learn computer science. The signatories include Fortune 100 CEOs across industries – from the nation’s largest technology companies, retailers, telecom firms, airlines, investment companies, entertainment companies, hotels, and manufacturers. They are joined by 27 governors from both sides of the aisle, as well as leaders of K-12 education from the nation’s largest school districts and largest education nonprofits.

To remind us that this isn’t about politics, let me tell you a story of what one student’s K-12 CS experience could look like if this effort is successful.

Leila’s elementary school picked up the “coding bug” by participating in the Hour of Code during CS Ed Week. She had no idea what coding or computer science was until that week, and afterwards she knew that it was fun, challenging, and most importantly, she could do it. Buoyed by student and parent demand, her district volunteered to pilot the new K-5 CS standards that the state had developed and integrated into their media technology standards. Earlier that year, the school’s media specialist, Mrs. Jackson, caught the “coding bug” herself and attended workshops supported by funding the district received, as well as other free workshops. Mrs. Jackson learned not just about coding, but computer science as a whole, including ways to integrate it with other subjects. Most importantly, Mrs. Jackson learned that a self-described technophobe could not only “do” CS, but enjoy it. Leila’s elementary years were spent making animations, stories, and even learning CS without a computer. By the end of elementary school Leila wasn’t looking at a tablet or smartphone as an entertainment device, but as a tool for creating.

By the time Leila got to middle school, CS had become a stable offering in all of her district’s schools, and the majority of her state’s schools had some kind of computer science offering for kids. In the first years of CS implementation, her middle school aged sister only got her CS experience through Math, Science, and Art. Now, Leila also gets to take an independent course because kids were so excited about the CS they were learning in their other courses that their parents pushed for the old technology education class to evolve into a dedicated CS experience. So despite potential stereotypes, Leila internalized that it was something she enjoyed and could do well.

When it came to Leila picking her classes in high school, the choice was easy because she had been exposed to CS in elementary and middle school: she was going to choose computer science. Her parents didn’t want to put any pressure on her, but they were secretly proud of her. As immigrants with no technical background themselves, they didn’t think their daughter would have been interested hadn’t her school system given Leila the opportunity. The culmination of Leila’s K-12 CS experience was in her AP CS class, where she was inspired by learning alongside students with disabilities to create a flash card study app for sign language learners. When she got to college, where she minored in CS, she earned rent money by tutoring her friends who were taking CS for the first time because their states didn’t have a vision for CS education. Guess what profession Leila decided to get into after college?

Fashion design! And upon starting her own business, she didn’t think twice about infusing her CS background into her products, like a dress quilted with tiny LEDs that would light up when the user moved (yes, she thought of her clients as “users”). She even created her own app for other designers to share their fashion creations! Leila now volunteers for an after-school girls coding club, showing them that she is living-proof, CS really is for all.

Let’s ask Congress to fund K-12 CS and make stories like Leila's a reality. Join the Computer Science Education Coalition and Code.org by signing the online petition at www.change.org/computerscience.