Published September 14, 2018
PEA RIDGE, AR (September 14, 2018) – Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has worked feverishly on two key areas – job creation and computer science education – over the four years of his administration. His visit to the Pea Ridge School District on Monday, September 10, 2018, enabled him to make progress on both fronts.
Hutchinson visited several classrooms to see the innovative coding and STEM solutions for children in Grades K-8, including two of Pitsco Education's offerings – KUBO and TETRIX®.
Hutchinson told an all-school assembly of students that these tools, which are part of the district's K-8 Pea Ridge Exploration of Pathways (PREP) program, could eventually help them achieve fulfilling technology-related careers even though they live in a small town in northwest Arkansas. He pointed out that he grew up on a farm just a few miles from Pea Ridge and that their options don't have to be limited.
"My dad worked in a poultry-processing plant and had a high school education. I was the youngest of six, and my parents told me to get a good education," Hutchinson told the crowd. "So, education has made a real difference in my life and gave me opportunities I would never have had otherwise."
Since being elected governor, Hutchinson has visited more than 60 high schools to promote computer science education, and the number of students enrolled in high-quality computer science courses across the state has increased from 1,100 to 6,500.
But in Pea Ridge, Superintendent Rick Neal, school administrators, and school board members have listened intently to area business and industry leaders, including those from the headquarters of Walmart, Tyson®, and J.B. Hunt, and chosen to begin coding and STEM education at the K-8 level to build a foundation of career exposure that will give students a clear advantage by the time they enter computer science and STEM courses in high school.
"Development needs to happen earlier than it is currently. Right now, it's happening at a sophomore, junior, senior level. It's not happening at the lower levels," Neal said of coding and STEM. "We need to be able to teach it and expose them at a kindergarten level all the way up to the eighth-grade level. Then by the time they get to ninth grade, they'll understand it."
The director of computer science education and chief STEM officer for the Arkansas Department of Education, Anthony Owen, was on hand for the governor's visit to Pea Ridge. He noted that K-8 coding and STEM activities will naturally level the playing field by attracting more females and other underserved populations that aren't prevalent within computer science courses and industry today. And using hands-on robotics and related materials to teach coding concepts to younger students is also a crucial step.
"If you tried to approach a student with a very theoretical-based curriculum, you're going to lose them and they're going to absolutely hate it," Owen said. "That's what we don't want at the K-8 level, especially because the K-8 pieces drive that interest and get students interested and excited about it."
Boosting the interest level of all students is a specific aim of the Walton Family Foundation, which funded a substantial portion of the K-8 STEM and coding curriculum and materials in Pea Ridge.
"We realize that while there are a certain percentage of kids that go on to college, and we're proud of them, they have a path," said Kathy Smith, senior program officer with the Walton Family Foundation. "Historically, there has not necessarily been a path for kids when they hit 18 and they're not college bound."
Hutchinson reminded students that STEM and coding education can lead them to financially rewarding careers, even if they don't complete a four-year degree. "You can run the world from your porch in Pea Ridge, Arkansas, if you understand computer coding – the language of the computer – and you have access to high-speed broadband internet, and you've got that here. So just learn the coding, and you could work for a company in Houston, Texas, in New York in California, from right here in Pea Ridge."
Pitsco Education is the leading provider of hands-on K-12 STEM solutions. STEM education prepares learners for the future through the integration of science, technology, engineering, and math concepts using relevant hands-on applications to connect school, community, and work. Our various products, activities, curriculum, and solutions promote positive learning experiences and continued classroom success.
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