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story.lead_photo.caption Standing Wednesday in the state Capitol with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Anthony Owen, director of computer science education, talks about the increase in high school students taking computer science classes. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

The number of Arkansas high school students taking computer science classes is up by 30 percent, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday.

A total of 8,044 students are taking computer science classes throughout the state, and eight districts have more than 100 students taking an individual computer science course. Greenwood School District in the River Valley area of west Arkansas has the most students in the state taking an individual course at 320 students, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Education.

The other districts that have more than 100 students taking an individual computer science class are Bentonville, Star City, North Little Rock, Little Rock, Lisa Academy, Forrest City and Springdale.

There are 143,495 high school students in Arkansas for the 2018-2019 school year, according to the Arkansas Department of Education Data Center.

Hutchinson has promoted computer science programs in public school since he took office, requiring high schools to offer at least one computer science class in 2015.

"This is an incredible success story," Hutchinson said.

When he started the initiative, Arkansas had 1,104 students taking computer science classes in high schools during the 2014-2015 academic year. In 2017-2018, the number was 6,184.

Nationally, the most recent push for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education took off under former President Barack Obama, as he focused on preparing more educators to teach STEM courses and raising awareness about STEM-related fields.

Hutchinson said he thinks having more students trained in computer science will draw in technology firms and boost the state's economy.

The classes are not mandatory, but students can use them for graduation credits, said Anthony Owen, director of computer science education.

"From day one, Gov. Hutchinson has said he wants it to be an option for students," Owen said.

Computer science classes can replace one of four math credits, three science credits or any of the career focus classes, Owen said.

Officials also created computer science programs for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Owen said. Part of the initiative is designed to reduce the gender gap that educators see in high school enrollment numbers for computer science courses. Twenty-seven percent of high schoolers taking computer science classes are girls, while 73 percent are boys.

Owen said the hope is that if teachers introduce computer science at a younger age and expose Arkansas children to the concept, then they can introduce STEM as a good fit for girls, too.

"Then there's less stigma for them taking it at the high school level," Owen said.

Owen said that there are more computer science trained teachers. When the initiative began, some school districts relied on methods such as video-chat teaching. Officials have also seen an uptick in ninth grade enrollment in the courses, he said.

Students who begin taking computer science classes earlier have the opportunity to take additional higher-level courses throughout high school.

"It was not just providing one opportunity for students but providing a clear pathway for the students when they get in the field," Owen said.

A graph showing computer science enrollment

Metro on 11/08/2018

Print Headline: Governor: Arkansas students taking computer science up 30%

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