Chariho Tech to boost girls IT with grant (The Westerly Sun)

By Cynthia Drummond, Sun staff writer

WOOD RIVER JCT. — Chariho Tech is one of eight schools in the state that will share $1.2 million in Innovation and Equity Grants, career and technical program funding that is meant to assist underserved student populations. The Rhode Island Department of Education announced Thursday that the schools will receive $150,000 over two years to encourage more female students to study information technology, or IT.

At Chariho Tech, the funds will be used to expand and upgrade the computer technology program, develop a “South County school neutral” public information campaign to encourage females throughout the region to consider IT careers, revamp the computer technology curriculum and offer work-based learning experiences and the opportunity to participate in a digital design laboratory, and introduce activities at all South County middle schools to encourage females to develop an interest in IT at an early age.

The number of females in IT programs in Rhode Island is 27 percent less than males, one of several equity gaps that Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said must be rectified.

"We are in the midst of an unprecedented expansion of career education opportunities for Rhode Island students,” she said. “But we cannot focus on expansion alone. We must remain focused on ensuring quality of programs and equity of access.

“I applaud these programs for making student equity a priority so that every student in the state is exposed to the kinds of hands-on, work-based learning opportunities that will prepare them for success in the future.”

Middle schools in addition to Chariho that will receive funding for after-school IT programs for female students are Westerly, Block Island, Exeter-West Greenwich, Jamestown, Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown.

Chariho Tech Director Gerald Auth welcomed the new funding.

“This is a great opportunity for the schools in southern Rhode Island to work together to increase awareness and participation in the field of computer technology,” he said. “I'm so excited for this opportunity for our students. As a Westerly resident and a Chariho school administrator, I'm happy that my children, as well as others, will have more opportunities to learn different aspects of this field.”

Funding for the grants comes from existing state career and technical education funding, which has traditionally been allocated to schools for new CTE programs. This year, however, the funds were directed to schools that have specific plans to improve equity of access to career and technical programs.

Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Ken Wagner said equal access to educational opportunities was critical to students’ success.

"Achievement gaps are really opportunity gaps, because when we provide equal access to rigorous, engaging, relevant learning experiences, all students can excel,” he said. “I talk a lot about student pathways, and those pathways are only possible when we empower every single student to pursue their passions and interests.”

Auth said he was eager for Chariho Tech to begin working with other schools to improve IT access for young women.

“CharihoTech will immediately become a leader and a model program in the computer technology field for students and schools in Rhode Island,” he said.  “We look forward to sharing our work with others in the state.”

Meg Geoghegan