JMU pilots computer science course for Page, Shenandoah Co. high schools


Nearly 20 students from high schools in Page and Shenandoah counties are getting a taste of college-level computer science this fall in a new program run by James Madison University.

The 19 students from Page County High School, Stonewall Jackson High School and Strasburg High School are earning college and high school credit in the dual-enrollment program called the Ninth Period. The program provides an opportunity for students to take a course not normally offered in their schools while also getting them to think about attending college.

"You give these kids the opportunity and many of them are very creative. They know how things work. Give them the opportunity to take off," said Nick Swayne, Director of 4-VA at JMU.

"Computer science was the number one common area that schools were interested in, and they couldn't get it anywhere else so that's why we focused on computer science." — Nick Swayne

After two years of planning, the Ninth Period is being run as a pilot this fall. If all goes well, the program, which targets schools in areas with low college matriculation, could be expanded to other school districts.

Dr. Chris Mayfield, assistant professor of computer science at JMU, is the instructor of record for the course. He teaches the 50-minute class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons via video links from JMU and is assisted by teachers from the schools. The teachers assisting Mayfield participated in training at JMU this summer to prepare and can handle the classes if the video links fail. They also help answer student questions during the lessons and hold class sessions outside of the video sessions with Mayfield.

In typical dual-enrollment classes offered by community colleges, high school classroom teachers teach the courses. But Virginia requires high school teachers to have at least a master's degree and 18 credit hours in the area of study they are teaching. The number of teachers with those credentials in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are few in rural school divisions, said Swayne.

The teachers working with Mayfield in the pilot program are taking the summer training they need to become certified to teach computer science.

Ninth Period is funded by 4-VA, a collaborative effort between JMU, George Mason, the University of Virginia and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The focus on computer science addresses a goal of 4-VA to increase the number of STEM graduates.

The program began when 4-VA surveyed schools to find out what types of dual-enrollment programs they would like to offer. Some of the suggested subjects were psychology or advanced writing, but those courses tend to be offered by community colleges. "Computer science was the number one common area that schools were interested in, and they couldn't get it anywhere else so that's why we focused on computer science," said Swayne.


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Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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