There’s a little known success story right in our backyard; one that shows what’s possible when state tax dollars are strategically invested, with the well-being of both students and the business community in mind. The story started two years ago, when the Loudoun Education Foundation won a $2.4 million grant from GO Virginia, a statewide economic development initiative based in Richmond.
The funds created the Virginia K-12 Computer Science Pipeline in Loudoun County Public Schools and Chesapeake Public Schools. Each of the school systems matched the GO Virginia grant with their own local dollars to create one of the largest workforce development initiatives in the nation.
It is the answer to the decades-long plea for qualified employees from Loudoun-based data centers, cybersecurity companies, and tech start-ups. Already, just two years into this investment, we’re seeing an incredible return on this investment.
This grant funds computer science coursework for grades 6-12, and LCPS has provided the funding to expand the program down to the elementary level, integrating computer science concepts into every subject area in each of the county’s 60 elementary schools. At the middle and high school levels, students have the option to take standalone computer science courses, including Robotic Design, Programming, Cybersecurity, and Software Design.
The program has also placed nearly 300 high school juniors and seniors in internships, giving them hands-on experience at local businesses. These students are now ready and empowered to continue their education at the college level or take a job in the tech industry.
As LCPS Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis recently put it, “Virginia has more than 30,000 unfilled computer science positions. The K-12 Computer Science Pipeline is preparing tomorrow’s tech workforce by getting students excited about problem solving and computational thinking early on. Our students are graduating from high school equipped and ready to continue their education at the college level if they so choose or immediately enter the workforce.”
As the state lawmakers consider setting aside more funding for GO Virginia and other workforce development grants, they may want to visit a Loudoun County school—pick any of the 97 elementary, middle, or high schools—to see their past investment in action.
Or, better yet, they should connect with local business leaders, who are rolling up their sleeves to mentor student interns, serve as a guest speaker, shape curriculum, and volunteer at career fairs. Because they truly see the Virginia K-12 Computer Science Pipeline as the solution to their biggest challenge: creating an exceptional workforce.
(This column was originally published in the Loudoun Times-Mirror.)