A “First Friday” at Digital Pioneers Academy

By Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow

I had the opportunity to visit Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA) as part of First Fridays—a series of monthly learning tours that spotlight D.C. charter schools. The description “digital pioneer” aptly describes this school. The public charter middle school is the first-ever computer science focused middle school in the District. Deliberately grounded in Ward 7, Mashea Ashton, the school’s founder, and her staff are rounding the corner on the inaugural year of the school, alongside the 120 sixth-grade scholars, mostly local to the Hillcrest community, where the school resides.

With a 1-to-1 ratio of computers to students and with teachers and students using technology tools with ease, everyone in this school is a pioneer. Students at DPA have a 55-minute computer science class every day, but they use their computers all day long. This is striking when, nationally, only 31 percent of seventh and eighth graders use a computer at school every day. [1]

The school adopted the RePublic model for computer science curriculum and instruction, after researching its use in Tennessee charter schools. The approach allows teachers with strong pedagogy and the willingness to learn new content the opportunity to learn computer science material independently and step-by-step, while staying ahead of their students. The 10- and 11-year old students have used Scratch to explore game development, are currently using CodePen to script and view web pages they are developing, and will start programming with JavaScript soon.

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