How one AP Computer Science teacher inspires her Florida students
Carmen Garcia from José Martí MAST 6–12 Academy in Hialeah, Florida, is passionate about guiding students from underrepresented groups to computer science.
In July, computer science teacher Carmen Garcia got the results of her students’ AP Computer Science Principles exams: More than 80 percent of them had passed, scoring a 3 or higher. While impressive, she wasn’t too surprised. Last year, her students had a pass rate of 92 percent.
“Considering the circumstances of this year, to have 81 percent pass is a great number,” she says. “Yes, it is down 10 percent from last year but considering the test was 100 percent online, I will take it!”
Like many teachers around the world last year, Carmen had to adapt to new ways of educating and inspiring her students during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was teaching from home and admits that keeping her students motivated and focused was not easy.
“By giving a bit more freedom during class time, I gained their respect to want to complete the portfolio and not let me down,” she says.
Carmen teaches business entrepreneurship, digital information technology, engineering, and computer science at José Martí MAST 6–12 Academy, a math and science magnet school with a 100 percent graduation rate that’s ranked 87th in the country and 9th in Florida, according to the U.S. News & World Report rankings of Best High Schools.
From Code.org to College Board
While Carmen has been a teacher for 25 years, she’s been teaching computer science for five. Carmen uses Code.org’s curriculum for her students: CS Discoveries for her middle school students and CS Principles for her high schoolers. She was first introduced to Code.org in 2015 through our professional learning program that prepares educators to teach computer science.
“I loved that everything is laid out for the teacher just starting out in computer science,” she says. Carmen also appreciates that the curriculum has been optimized to better align with the AP exam, and that the younger level curricula help prepare students for the AP CS Principles course.
“I believe in Code.org,” she says. “Having watched the changes over the years to improve the lessons both for the teacher and the activities for the students has been my buy-in. Students like it! Everything they need is on one platform.”
Not only do all of Carmen’s AP students take the exam at the end of the year, they also stay engaged with the course throughout its duration. She says the very nature of Code.org’s AP CS Principles class encourages students to take the exam and stay involved throughout the entire course.
“I constantly remind them that if they stay focused in class, then there is little outside work,” she says. “Having a class that doesn’t load homework or extra exams motivates them to stay focused in class and use their time wisely.”
José Martí MAST 6–12 Academy is in Hialeah, Florida, just outside of Miami. Hialeah is more than 95 percent Hispanic/Latinx (the highest percentage of a Hispanic/Latinx population in a U.S. city with over 100,000 citizens) and boasts one of the largest Spanish-speaking communities in the country. Similarly, the student population at José Martí MAST 6–12 Academy is 84 percent Hispanic/Latinx.
This is significant because, historically, the AP Computer Science exams have had only 17% participation by Hispanic/Latinx students. So Carmen — who is Hispanic herself — and her students are defying expectations and breaking barriers every year.
“Seven years ago, I was introduced to the shortage of minorities entering the computer science field by a professor at our local university and this piqued my interest,” Carmen says. “I couldn’t believe in a world — where our foundation to function is using technology — where that percentage of minorities is 17 percent. So this became my new mission in education, to bring awareness to my students that computer science is a possible career choice for them.”
Carmen is passionate about introducing new students to computer science every year and estimates that about 40 percent of her AP Computer Science students each year plan to continue studying CS in college:
“This past year I was elated to receive a letter from a parent thanking me that their daughter decided to focus on computer science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. This is my why.”
— Samantha Urban Tarrant, Code.org
If you’re a teacher who is interested in bringing computer science to your classroom, check out our Professional Learning opportunities.
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