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SF school programs bring wider range of opportunities to female students

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Since the San Francisco Board of Education passed a resolution in 2015 to expand computer science education to all, the number of girls taking computer science increased by more than 5,000 percent. (Courtesy photo)

Question: What do Ruth Asawa, Dolores Huerta, Dianne Feinstein, Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, and June Jordan have in common? (I’ll tell you the answer after you read my article.)

Across the city thousands of students are celebrating Women’s History Month.

In addition to learning about important women in history, we are encouraging our students to be a part of making history. Our collective goal as educators, parents and community members is to support young people in reaching their full potential and that means removing barriers.

Tech Pioneers

On a recent Thursday, 14 students crouched on the floor, disassembling desktop computers. The students in this particular class are a critical part of the tech support for their school. They change toner in printers, fix projector connection issues, and understand why computer programs crash and what to do when that happens.

Each student identifies as female, and most are students of color.

Their teacher, Ms. Ramirez, said she noticed that boys tended to enroll more in tech programs and she wanted a mechanism for addressing society’s underrepresentation of women in tech, with the purpose to empower young girls with tech tools.

In 2015, the San Francisco Board of Education passed a resolution to expand computer science education to all students at all schools, making SFUSD the first large, urban school district to have a pre-K to 12th grade computer science program. Salesforce helped to fund the expansion and since then the number of girls taking computer science increased by more than 5,000 percent.

In fact, three of our high schools just received the College Board’s 2018 AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award, which recognizes schools that are closing the gender gap and engaging more female students in computer science coursework.

Entering a Trade

Last year marked the first year a female student entered the Carpenters Local Union No. 22 San Francisco after completing the Construction and Environmental Technology Pathway at John O’Connell High School.

The Construction Pathway is part of SFUSD’s Career & College Pathways, which integrates high school students learning in school with real-world opportunities. Not only do these work-based learning experiences increase student motivation and achievement, they are also an important part of how our students are breaking through glass ceilings.

Listening to our students

While we have a lot of opportunities for our students that help to level the playing field, girls in our schools still face unique challenges that we must address.

How do we know? We listen to our students.

We recently partnered with the Alliance for Girls to hear more from our girls of color in middle and high schools. Through student-led research, they helped us identify areas of success for us to grow and replicate and areas of challenge that we need to address.

Overall the girls in the study reported that they had strong role models, they are overall confident and want to be part of improving their communities. We also learned that we need to do more to increase students’ sense of belonging and safety as well as provide more academic support and opportunities.

Finally, in honor of Women’s History Month, I want to appreciate the thousands of women educators and education administrators who are at the heart of our making our schools great.

(Answer: These are all remarkable women and SFUSD has schools named in honor of them.)

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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