School District Wins $577,000 in PAsmart Grants
PHILADELPHIA – Governor Tom Wolf has announced the School District of Philadelphia is receiving $577,000 in PAsmart grants, designed to bolster STEM and computer science opportunities, apprenticeship and job training across the Commonwealth to prepare students and workers with the necessary skills to be successful in today’s workforce.
PAsmart is the statewide initiative unveiled last year by Gov. Wolf to connect Pennsylvanians with the resources needed to work, learn or train in the Commonwealth.
“The District’s goal is to ensure students in every school have access to quality computer science activities,” said Dr. William R. Hite, superintendent. “No matter the career field or course of study our students choose to enter after they graduate, they will need to be digitally literate to be successful. While we have expanded our digital literacy curriculum and introduced more computer science classes in recent years, we still have work to do. We are thankful for the state’s investment and look forward to enhancing computer science opportunities for our students.”
The District was awarded the maximum amount in PAsmart advancing grants, $500,000, to enhance the infrastructure already in place so that more students have access to computer science opportunities, particularly in middle and high school.
The grant would help strengthen the teaching of the District’s Digital Literacy course in middle schools through professional development specifically focused on using resources like Sphero robots to teach coding. It would also allow the District to help expand schools’ participation in the FIRST LEGO League, where students use STEM concepts to solve real-world problems, including food safety, recycling and energy.
The grant would also help facilitate professional development for teachers in schools without computer science courses, with the goal of these schools ultimately being able to offer AP Computer Science Principles. Schools that already offer Computer Science classes would be able to provide additional classes in the 2020-2021 school year, and the District would also be able to grow the number of FIRST Tech Challenge competition teams, where students design, build, program and operate robots in head-to-head challenges.
The District would also be able to expand its work with its existing partners, including: First Inspires; Dell; Coded By Kids; Urban Technology Project; Delaware County Intermediate Unit; Lego Education; Philadelphia Robotics Coalition; Philadelphia Public League; Drexel University; and Sphero.
In addition, a $77,000 targeted grant awarded to the District will help The Urban Technology Project to increase exposure for CTE students interested in technology and computer science. It would build a pre-apprenticeship pathway for students transitioning from eighth grade to CTE programs in high school by engaging students in hands-on technical support, coding, and digital media experiences. These experiences will be guided by instructors and reinforced by professional mentors, with the goals of increasing CTE enrollment, maintaining enrollment throughout high school, developing technologists, and supplementing learning with a qualified mentor.
The grants will help the District, in addition to other Philadelphia workforce stakeholders, address many of the recommendations put forth in Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine, the citywide workforce development strategy released in 2018. The strategy focuses on three main goals: preparing Philadelphians with the skills employers need; addressing barriers to career opportunities; and building a workforce system that is more coordinated, innovative and effective.
In recent years, the District has made significant investments to enhance students’ digital learning experiences. It has created its own digital literacy curriculum, used by more than 130 K-8 schools, which includes lessons and activities around coding, internet safety, and computational thinking. There is also alignment between core subjects and the K-8 digital literacy curriculum. In addition, 23 high schools offer computer science courses, including Introduction to Technology and Computer Applications, Introduction to Computer Science, and AP Computer Science Principles.