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For Immediate Release 06.15.2016

Governor Announces Statewide Initiative to Increase Access for Computer Science and STEM Careers

$400,000 set for Career Initiative in Every Middle School

LITTLE ROCK – Today, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced the Learning Blade initiative, supported through a $400,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Education to the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, to increase student awareness and interest in computer science and STEM careers.

Learning Blade challenges students to take on game-based projects that expose them to different aspects of science, technology, engineering, and math education – commonly referred to as STEM. Arkansas is the second state to implement Learning Blade statewide and, at the Governor’s request, Arkansas is the first ever state to deploy Learning Blade with a computer coding aspect.

In the program, students are taught computer science skills through engaging academic exercises. Lessons are self-guided, allowing students to work on STEM-based activities at their own pace in the classroom or during after-school programs at no cost to Arkansas’s middle schools. The program will be implemented across Arkansas beginning in the 2016-2017 school year.

Governor Asa Hutchinson issued the following statement:

“The Learning Blade’s focus on STEM education will offer Arkansas’s students new and exciting opportunities to learn real-world computer science concepts. This program will help our young learners master the fundamentals required for an array of specialized and highly-competitive STEM careers.

“This effort, along with my computer science initiative, is putting Arkansas’s students in an even better position to land tech-driven jobs. As the computer coding movement in Arkansas continues to gain momentum, I look forward to even greater numbers of students taking on the skills needed for these challenging and rewarding fields.” 

The Learning Blade program will coordinate with the governor’s computer science initiative to offer coding classes at every Arkansas public high school by exposing middle school students to STEM education concepts. 

“Learning Blade will help Arkansas educators provide student-focused interactions that expose students to possible career paths and connect students with the relevance of learning,” said Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key. “It is a powerful tool that will ignite a spark in the minds of students.”

“I am excited that Learning Blade is being made available to teachers and students across Arkansas,” said Anthony Owen, ADE Coordinator of Computer Science. “Building interest in STEM subjects and awareness of related career opportunities, including jobs in the field of computer science, is crucial in ensuring that Arkansas graduates have the knowledge and skills that technology-based industries are seeking for their workforce.”

By 2024, there will be more than 126,000 computer science and STEM jobs in Arkansas, which opens up opportunities for Arkansas’s upcoming workforce to pursue high-paying career paths in these fields.

“The Arkansas Department of Career Education (ACE) sees the Learning Blade online program as an opportunity to further demonstrate the importance of STEM education and bring awareness and interest to STEM careers in Arkansas,” said Dr. Charisse Childers, Director of the Arkansas Department of Career Education. “Learning Blade will provide the gateway to current ACE Career and Technical programs such as Project Lead the Way and Gateway to Technology, High Schools that Work, Tech Centers that Work, Advanced Careers curriculum, Mobile Applications Development, Engineering Technology Education and Computer Engineering and Computer Programming. We believe this program can play an important role in our mission at ACE which is to prepare a job-ready, career-bound workforce to meet the needs of Arkansas employers.” 

Several benefits for students who have participated in the Learning Blade program include:

Increase in student awareness of STEM careers and technologies – 71 percent of students say they learned about new careers after using Learning Blade.
Increase in student interest to follow STEM career paths – 37 percent of students say they are more likely to pursue STEM careers and 57 percent are more interested in taking advanced math in high school.
Increase in perceived relevance of student academic skills – 69 percent more students recognize what they learn in school will be useful later in life after graduation.

The cost to implement the Learning Blade Program is $400,000, which is being provided through a grant from the Department of Education to the Arkansas Public School Resource Center (APSRC). APSRC will work to implement the program throughout the state beginning in the 2016-2017 school year at no cost to Arkansas’s middle schools.

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