Homer High School earns computer science female diversity award

Homer High School has earned the College Board AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in AP Computer Science Principles.

More than 1,100 institutions achieved a 50% or higher female representation in one of the two AP computer science courses. In 2022, Homer High School was one of 832 recognized in the category of AP Computer Science Principles (CSP).

Homer High School’s Jan Spurkland is the instructor for the Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles elective course, “which is really, at least in our district, an emerging vocational education curriculum,” he said.

The award is a nationwide attempt to address the gender gap that exists in computer science. “The inconsistency has been observed in STEM careers since the 1970s. In engineering, mathematics and the sciences the gap has been decreasing toward parity between males and females from K-12 level education to collegiate level and in careers,” Spurkland said.

Spurkland, who also teaches traditional science courses, biology and physics, said computer science is important not just for those seeking higher education. “There are a lot of pathways to a computer science career that don’t involve secondary education,” Spurkland explains, “that’s why this is considered a vocational class; the skills that we are learning are applicable in a career sense without necessarily continuing your education into academia.”

The course is an introductory class on programming and digital mechanics. “For those of us in older generations, we’ve watched the process of digital tools assimilate and replace physical tools over the last 20-30 years but for this generation, these digital tools have always been there.”

Spurkland said there seems to be a large desire from the student side of things to learn how to create and manipulate the digital tools that they’re so familiar.

The goal of providing these computer science classes is to meet that need. As an undergraduate, Spurkland received a minor in computer science but as he points out, the computer technology world is changing so quickly that his preliminary academic training was a very different world from where we are now.

As a teacher now, there are a multitude of training opportunities and support available today because there is so much attention focusing on computer science. “One of the curriculums that we use is called code.org and they do class specific trainings every summer for teachers as we hope to expand opportunities in courses like these looking forward,” he said.

He credits the community’s support for helping close the gender gap.

“The support in this community for the study of computer sciences is fantastic. Students are exposed to it at the elementary and middle school level, they’re exposed to it through community activities like the public library, for example. To look at why we have closed the gender gap here, it’s because of all the support that this community is showing. Students that come into Homer High School feel empowered to study this.”

Emilie Springer can be reached at emilie.springer@homernews.com.