Freehold High School in Freehold Borough has earned the College Board Advanced Placement Computer Science Female Diversity Award in recognition of achieving high female representation in AP Computer Science Principles.
The award recognizes schools that have emboldened female students to see the possibilities in the field of computer science.
“Our teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators have made a push to encourage all students, even those who are slightly intrigued in computer science, to consider the course,” said Brian Gadaleta, the AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) teacher at Freehold High School.
”We are in our fifth year of running the course here and the third year of using the Mobile CSP curriculum. With the (coronavirus) pandemic forcing school to go virtual in 2020, the first year of the new curriculum was never finished in-person.
“This is going to be the first year I will have the opportunity to communicate face-to-
face with new potential students to the class, as well as having current students act as
ambassadors for the program.
“I have seen an uptick in interest recently because students are preparing to create their schedules for the next school year. This is particularly important for our female students who are on the fence about (taking) the course.
“Having the current students be able to engage in conversation and provide personal insight into the program is going to pay dividends in the growth of the course,” Gadaleta said.
The AP Computer Science Principles does not have a single nationwide curriculum, and
according to Gadaleta, the staff at Freehold High School opted to use Mobile CSP as the
curriculum, which focuses on introductory app development and connecting what are called the five “Big Ideas” to the real world – Creative Development; Data; Algorithms and Programming; Computer Systems and Networks; and Impact of Computing.
“We went this route because it has a hands-on approach when it comes to the app
development portion of the class, but it also gives the teacher an opportunity to open up
discussions relating the topics to the students’ lives,” Gadaleta said.
Gadaleta said he believes one of the most interesting parts of the course actually
happens after the AP test and the performance task have been completed.
“The students get an opportunity to take their programming knowledge and creativity and utilize Arduino technology to create circuits and work with basic robotics,” he said.
Seniors Marjuly Cruz and Stephanie Gonzalez-Morales both said they
believe they will benefit from the knowledge they have acquired from the program.
“I thought this program would be a fun challenge and a great introduction to another
aspect of computer science,” Cruz said. “Although we are yet to complete the AP performance task, I am really interested in and look forward to taking what I have learned throughout the year in order to create my own app.”
“I wanted to learn more about the basic fundamentals of computer science so I
could build upon that knowledge in college,” Gonzalez-Morales said. “It was a great opportunity to start by learning how computer science is integrated into the world around us since the field still remains male-dominated. By taking this course, I hoped I would be encouraging other young women to take this course if they are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”
When asked if any students had gone on to pursue careers in the field, Gadaleta said
there have been students who are interested in computer science and/or information technology related degree programs.
“It is an interesting question because AP Computer Science Principles is not a course only
teaching students to program,” he said. “It takes students into the how and why of computer science and relates the concepts to a variety of disciplines.”
Gadaleta said students who have taken the course have gone on to college and have pursued a major in many different disciplines.
He said students take the course because as technology evolves, it finds its way into every career path, and knowing how computer programs are designed can only help with students’ comfort level of being the user or designer.
This year in particular though, Gadaleta said he has five or six students, three of whom
are young women, who are interested in some sort of computer science or information technology related degree program.
And it looks like Cruz and Gonzalez-Morales are among them. Cruz said she plans to
study computer science in college and pursue a career in the field, while Gonzalez-Morales said she wants to go on to become a software developer.
More than 1,000 institutions achieved either 50% or higher female representation in one
of the two AP computer science courses or a percentage of the female computer science exam takers meeting or exceeding that of the school’s female population during the 2020-21 school year. In 2021, Freehold High School was one of the 760 recognized in the category of AP Computer Science Principles.