New York City is a hotbed of technological innovation, but many of its public school students aren't graduating with the skills needed to be a part of "Silicon Alley," as it's known. Scott Schwaitzberg, vice president of Activate, is planning to fix that problem by helping to build a public high school designed to teach the city's youth everything they need to know about writing software and the tech industry.
Schwaitzberg is part of a team that's creating a revolutionary public high school for software engineering in the heart of New York City. Named "The Academy for Software Engineering," the school will admit 500 students in grades 9 through 12 when it opens in the fall of this year. There's a limited screening process: Prospective students attend an information session and sit down with an advisor to be considered for the admissions lottery.
The Academy's main goal is to teach the art and science of coding to students who don't usually consider a career as a software engineer a possibility, including kids who come from less well-off families. Other programs exist in New York City that teach students basic computer skills, but Schwaitzberg believes the city's youth need something more.
"We don't want to teach coding as just a life skill," says Schwaitzberg, "but rather as a career path."
At the school, students will learn in-depth software engineering skills alongside a traditional high school curriculum. The school will also serve as a "training ground" for computer science and software engineering instructors, who will modify, adapt and improve their curricula as the program develops.
Schwaitzberg's mission is to link the school's students with top tech companies through mentorships and internships, giving kids a first-hand look at the inner workings of Silicon Alley before they even graduate. He's working with a team of advisors from top-end tech companies such as Google, Foursquare, Kickstarter and others to integrate the school into New York's tech scene.
"The goal is to really embed the program into the New York City tech community," says Schwaitzberg.
Not every one of the students who graduate from the Academy will be launched into a career or a college program in software engineering, says Schwaitzberg. But each student will learn how to think like a coder an education that will develop students' mathematical, logic and reasoning abilities, all skills that software engineering relies upon.
Beyond that, Schwaitzberger wants the school to excel to the point where it's considered a role model for education innovation across the country.
"Not every student will be an expert Quality Analysis Engineer at Google, but we will expose them to something unique and create an education model for other cities," says Schwaitzberg. "That's been the goal since day one. Also, if our graduation rate dramatically exceeds that of New York City as a whole and gains a reputation for preparing and exciting kids for a career in software, that's a win."
Schwaitzberg first began working on the idea while he was working on digital initiatives at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office. The plan is part of the Fix Young America campaign, an initiative to help reduce youth unemployment through entrepreneurship.
Do you think a public high school to teach kids how to write software code is a good approach for getting more students integrated into the tech community? Should other cities adopt the idea? Sound off in the comments below.