SMITHFIELD – Ending the school year on a high note, Smithfield High School was awarded $122,165 in Rhode Island Department of Education Career and Technical Education grants to create two new programs focused on expanding historically underserved students.
Noticing both a resource in computer science teacher Micheal Deslauriers and a disparity of females in computer science and information technology, Acting Principal Kenneth Hopkins worked with teachers and administrators from both the high and middle schools to write the grant.
Each year starting after 6th grade, retention of girls in those classes dropped by 22 percent, Hopkins said. By high school, few female students remained.
According to a RIDE press release regarding the grant, across industry sectors there is a 27 percent gap for women in IT, something Hopkins would prefer to see shrink substantially.
Hopkins said by beginning with early exposure in grades 6-8, continuing with recruitment, fixing scheduling conflicts, upgrading the computer lab and offering a certificate granting pathway program, more girls would remain interested in the courses.
“Research shows that by making the labs more gender neutral and eliminating lab stations, girls are more likely to choose IT,” Hopkins said.
Often, he explained, girls are cautious to choose the two programs because of a stigma that it is a male-dominated field.
“It’s actually the opposite, it’s very inclusive and welcoming,” he said.
Hopkins said not having active recruitment in the fields puts the department at a disadvantage as well. The grant includes a part-time CTE recruiter who would work in both the middle and high school.
“That is the power of early exposure. The earlier you start to know what something is, the more likely you are to get involved and be successful,” he said.
Once RIDE approval is given on June 26, Hopkins said creation of the pathway would begin right away. With a one-year implementation period and a year-two followup, Smithfield schools would create 56 new student seats, 28 each year, in IT and computer science.
“It’s our ultimate goal to have at least 56 students enrolled in each of the two sections,” he said. Currently, SHS offers four IT and 3 computer science classes with fewer than 20 students enrolled.
Of the $1.2 million in state grant money available, 26 schools applied for a total of $3.1 million in funding to create new programs.
Supt. Judy Paolucci said the high school already has a commitment to exposing students to a variety of careers.
“I am so pleased that the high school is taking clear steps to ensure equity for traditionally male-dominated professions,” she said.
Currently, SHS has three CTE programs, consisting of the Academy of Finance, Teacher Preparation, and Engineering Technology. Fields such as teacher preparation have similar gender gaps, but reversed, Hopkins said.
Three other CTE pathways, Cyber Security, Construction Management, and Law and Public Safety, are also awaiting RIDE approval before coming to SHS. Hopkins said implementing more pathways gives students incentives such as college credit and certificates, and helps to keep students at SHS.
“We’ve had more students coming into our district than ever before,” he said. “We have a great culture here. This is the high school I’d send my kids to.”