Briarcliff High School has earned the College Board AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in AP computer science principles. Schools are honored with the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award by expanding girls’ access in AP computer science courses. In 2020, Briarcliff High School was one of 831 out of 20,000 schools recognized in the category of AP Computer Science Principles.
“During an unprecedented year, Briarcliff High School’s female students have demonstrated perseverance and dedication in their study of AP Computer Science,” said Principal Debora French. “We could not be more proud of Briarcliff High School’s female students for staking their claim as the next generation of STEM and computer science professionals. We can’t wait to see their passion for next generation technology lead to lifelong success.”
The expansion of girls’ access to computer science courses involves several factors, one of which is presenting the opportunity to students as early as eighth grade to participate in these classes.
“Guidance counselors meet with all eighth grade students about all of their courses, but they specifically speak about computer science with those who express an interest or ability in math or other technology,” said computer science and mathematics teacher Christopher Lo, who also teaches at the middle school. “When counselors have family college meetings with juniors, they also mention the college’s specific focus on filling their STEM classes with more females,” he added.
Mr. Lo has a major role in encouraging female students to sign up for computer science classes, as he often collaborates with the counselors and assists them in explaining differences between the computer science courses. He also demonstrates how to “pitch” them to the students and parents.
“Counselors refer interested students to me so that I may reach out to give further information and offer my time to gauge their interests and find the best computer science course for them to take,” he said. “There is further exposure by having middle school Introduction to Computer Science students visit my high school class with their teacher.”
In addition, Mr. Lo encourages his high school students to pinpoint their interest in specific computer science topics and also shows them videos and articles that illustrate examples of diverse populations in various computer science fields.
“These videos and articles encourage young women and people of color to use computer science to engage and solve problems in their lives and community,” he said.
After-school clubs are another way of brining awareness and creating additional opportunities for female students to engage in computer science related activities.
“We host a high school student-run club called Coding Café that creates a space for any and all students to join to engage in shared interests around the topic of computer science,” said Mr. Lo. “Students who have not yet taken a computer science class often discover this club through their peers and elect to take computer science courses after joining the club.”
Providing female students with access to computer science courses is critical to ensuring gender parity in the industry’s high-paying jobs and to drive innovation, creativity and representation. That is why new College Board research about AP CSP is so encouraging. According to the data, female students who take AP CSP in high school are more than five times as likely to major in computer science in college, compared to similar female students who did not take CSP.
Mr. Lo is pleased with the award and agrees that female and diverse cultural representations are essential to computer science.
“There is plenty of untapped potential from underrepresented thinkers who may hold the next computational innovation that can change and benefit our society,” he said. “Having more access for females helps break the stereotype that computer science and STEM is a masculine field. Closing the access gap helps create more diverse role models who will help inspire new generations of thinkers, inventors, and innovators.”