(TNS) — PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Six months ago, Governor Raimondo rolled out an ambitious plan to offer computer-science classes in every school in Rhode Island by December 2017.
When schools open this month, about half of Rhode Island's public schools -- 148 schools -- will have met this goal, according to Richard Culatta, Raimondo's chief innovation officer.
"We are on target," he said last week. "And we're well ahead of target with the high schools. It's an indication of how serious we are as a state in providing new opportunities for our students to be successful."
Raimondo has made job creation the centerpiece of her administration, and her new computer-science initiative is designed to address the skills gap between Rhode Island graduates and high-paying jobs in technology-related fields.
Her plan relies heavily on philanthropic efforts and a commitment of time and money from the business community. The state is also partnering with Microsoft, Code.org, Bootstrap (based at Brown University) and local colleges and universities to train educators and make curriculum available.
If Raimondo is successful, it would catapult Rhode Island into the front ranks of states that are committed to building a tech-savvy workplace.
Raimondo, in her fiscal 2017 budget, allocated $260,000 for teacher training. Here's what the administration has accomplished this summer:
Bootstrap has trained more than 30 teachers from 15 to 20 schools in a computer-science course aimed at students in grades 7 through 10.
"They get to feel what it's like to be a student," said Emmanuel Schanzer, founder and co-director of Bootstrap. "We ask them the same questions that we ask the kids. Afterward, we talk about what activity worked. When they go back to their schools, they will have a concrete image of how the curriculum works."
The curriculum, adapted from a similar program at Brown, will show students why they need to know algebra.
Code.org has already trained 150 elementary teachers in computer science fundamentals and will do the same for another 150 educators later in August. Elementary school students learn math-related thinking skills. They learn how to be creative, how to collaborate and how to problem-solve.
"They learn drag-and-drop commands," said Sharon Ficarra, a trainer and the STEM coordinator for the Westerly schools. "They learn what an algorithm is, where to look for patterns, and that a computer can do nothing without a program."
Four Rhode Island companies -- FM Global, Amica Mutual Insurance, Citizens Bank and AT&T Foundation -- have committed a total of $150,000 to the initiative. Lifespan and Amica are also offering employees to serve as trainers inside the classroom.
At Amica, Greg Calderiso is leading a task force of nine volunteers who will be teaching computer science in high school classrooms this fall. The regular classroom teachers will provide order and organization while the volunteers teach the course.
"We're all holding hands and jumping in," Calderiso said. "We all said, 'Wow. I wish I had this as a kid.' Now we're at a point where we can give back."
Meanwhile, a charter high school in Providence, the Academy for Career Exploration, has just completed a four-week boot camp for 30 local teenagers, where students learned algebra while learning how to code. The school partnered with Bootstrap and Bridge Technical Talent, a talent-placement company for IT workers.
Susan Ahlstrom, ACE's director of development, said, "It's really quite amazing [to see] the enthusiasm and dedication on the part of businesses, nonprofits, schools ... all working toward getting these students toward the skills that are relevant."
©2016 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.