UCLA Community School Wins Google RISE Award for Access to Computer Education for Underserved Students

Award will fund the Bruin Bits & Bytes Program, giving every 4th-12th grader at least one computer science learning opportunity before they graduate.

UCLA Community School, in collaboration with Center X’s Exploring Computer Science (ECS) initiative, has been selected to receive a 2014 Google RISE (Roots in Science & Engineering) Award. The school, which serves the Koreatown/Pico-Union community of Los Angeles, is receiving a $25,000 award from Google to start the Bruin Bits & Bytes Program, which will provide inner city students – focusing on girls and underrepresented minority groups in particular – with the computer science (CS) knowledge needed to compete for college and careers in the 21st Century.

Google RISE Awards are part of the Google for Education initiative and are designed to support organizations that promote access to Computer Science education and give students aged 7-18 the opportunity to become creators – and not just consumers – of tomorrow’s technological innovations. Google awards funding to, and partners with, organizations running programs that inspire, engage, and retain students on a long-term path in the field of computing.

Karen Hunter Quartz, director of research at Center X and UCLA Community School, says that Google’s commitment to providing computing knowledge to all, as well as the opportunity to become creators – not just consumers – of technology is embodied in the school’s mission.

“UCLA Community School is committed to developing students as self-directed, passionate learners who actively and critically engage in the world,” says Hunter Quartz. “We are delighted to be working with Google to support these competencies in computer science.”

UCLA Community School looks forward to starting the Bruin Bits & Bytes Program, under the leadership of history and computer science teacher Kim Merino, who is a graduate of the UCLA Teacher Education Program. Bruin Bits & Bytes will support a range of learning opportunities, including computer science courses, a student leadership program, internships, and field trips, that are geared towards recruiting, fostering, mentoring, and providing opportunities for future computer scientists and technology innovators. The proposed program’s top priority is to leverage resources at the university to both expand the current computer science opportunities at UCLA Community School, and to serve as a mentor school for other Los Angeles public schools and communities.

Merino, who teaches the ECS course at UCLA Community School, says that it is the ideal campus to lead LAUSD in providing access to computing knowledge and innovation, especially for girls and other underrepresented populations in the field.

“We see access to rigorous computer science courses and learning opportunities as a social justice issue and the Bruin Bits & Bytes program will radically enrich the education of our students and impact the lives of community,” says Merino. “We are putting the ‘CS’ into ‘UCLA CS’.”

The Bruin Bits & Bytes Program will create a rich computer science culture at UCLA Community School, with the goal of giving every student from grades 4-12 at least one computer science-related learning opportunity before they graduate. An essential component will be a student leadership program, in which high school students will teach and mentor younger students in computer science fundamentals. There will also be computer literacy workshops at UCLA Community School open to parents, families, and other community members in the school’s service area.

Principal Leyda Garcia says that these collaborative efforts to teach computing to not only UCLA Community School students, but to their families and community, will reinforce knowledge for the students and enable them to “undoubtedly transform communities.”

“Computer science at UCLA Community School represents another way to tumble misconceived ideas about who has access – not just to the technology of the day, but to the spaces where technology is created,” says Garcia.

Keeping students engaged in computer science and STEM fields after graduation is also important to UCLA Community School’s mission of preparing them for lifelong learning and meaningful careers for the 21st Century. Partnerships with tech companies, labs, and engineering firms like Google will prove a significant asset in achieving these goals, by better equipping the school’s faculty and college and career counseling staff to guide and support students who wish to pursue study or careers in computer science and STEM.

Assistant principal Queena Kim says that financial and professional support from companies like Google will serve to expand the depth of CS teaching and learning at UCLA Community School and reinforce the position of UCLA and ECS as leading forces in creating L.A.’s “Silicon Beach.”

“Beyond expanding opportunities for computer science teaching and learning at UCLA CS, such partnerships between companies like Google and higher education institutions is a powerful example of how the marketplace can engage in education in a tangible way,” she says. “This is a model of how we will revive communities inside out, making a lasting economic and social imprint on the city of Los Angeles.”

Google RISE awardees are chosen based on their focus on underrepresented minorities in the field of computer science and their position as game-changers for teaching and learning computer science at the K-12/Pre-University level. UCLA Community School will benefit from funding for Bruin Bits & Bytes, an invitation to Google’s annual global summit, a year of consulting services from Google experts on technical tools and organizational development, and volunteer support from Google engineers.

For more information about the Google RISE Awards, click here.

For more information about UCLA Community School, click here.


Above: UCLA Community School teacher Kim Merino (standing) participated with her students in the “Hour of Code” initiative last December in the campus’s Paul Schrade Library, as part of Code.org’s global mission for everyone to learn how to code.