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STEM Coding Lab: Bridging the Digital Divide

STEM Coding Lab (SCL) is dedicated to bridging the digital divide by providing computer science education to under-resourced K-8 youth in Allegheny County. The need for equipping underprivileged students with CS skills to enable them to compete in the 21st-century job market cannot be overstated. To this end, SCL has developed an independently curated curriculum that covers a broad range of topics such as robotics, app design, cybersecurity and AI.

Since its establishment in 2017, SCL has grown exponentially, quadrupling in size since 2020. The organization has achieved a 100% retention rate among its partners, with no cancellation of programming except during COVID-19 related closures. SCL currently has 10 teachers who teach 140 computer science classes each week at 38 locations in 11 school districts throughout Allegheny County, serving about 4,000 under-resourced students.

More than 90% of SCL’s students qualify for government support, which is an indication that they would not otherwise have access to a CS course. However, the need for computer science professionals is on the rise in Pennsylvania, with over 13,000 open computing jobs in the state, with an average salary of over $100,000 per year. Computing occupations account for over half of all projected new jobs in STEM fields, and SCL recognizes the necessity of giving under-resourced students access to foundational CS education to enable them to compete in such a rapidly growing and evolving field.

SCL has focused its efforts on the most under-resourced classrooms in the region to have a significant impact. Despite their significant growth, vacancies still exist throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. SCL’s mission to bridge this digital divide has been strengthened through several capacity-building partnerships with local universities, organizations and tech companies. Such partnerships have provided SCL with a platform to broaden their reach and reinforce their curriculum’s quality.

Furthermore, SCL has established one of the most expansive, diverse and committed volunteer teams in Pittsburgh’s education nonprofit sector. SCL has welcomed 75 new volunteers into its classrooms, 45 of whom are employed in 32 different Pittsburgh-area tech companies. These volunteers serve as teaching assistants and guest speakers, ensuring that SCL’s students are not only exposed to CS professionals innovating in the field but also enriching their social capital to position them for success in the future.

Overall, SCL’s commitment, focus, passion and collaboration have enabled them to provide a foundation for under-resourced K-8 students to excel in an ever-evolving digital world. By bridging the digital divide, SCL prepares students for an innovative and technological future, ensuring that they are not left behind in a technological age dominated by computer science.