The minute she was exposed to Computer Science, Suva Intermediate School teacher Lorraine Torres became passionate about bringing the subject into her classroom and learning more herself.
After 29 years of teaching a variety of subjects including math and music, Torres decided to earn a master’s degree in educational technology. In her program, she took her first ever Computer Science class where she was tasked with building a website.
“I’d never taken a coding course before; I didn’t even know what it was,” said Torres. “It wasn’t until after I coded for the first time myself that I realized how important it was for students to know these kinds of things.”
Upon completing her degree, Torres became one of the few teachers in her district, Montebello Unified School District (MUSD), to introduce Computer Science to her students using Code.org,
As a self-proclaimed “old school” teacher, Torres was used to being the “sage on the stage”, but teaching Computer Science encouraged her to become a “guide on the side.”
“I’ve gotten comfortable not knowing everything in the classroom, and I think a lot of educators resist that uncertainty,” Torres said. “However, embracing the discomfort, I’ve found that students are eager to go on this adventure together where I guide, they figure things out, and they, in turn, guide me. I’ve seen tremendous growth in their critical thinking and problem-solving skills as a result,” she continued.
Code.org, the nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to Computer Science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color, joins forces with school districts and organizations known as Regional Partners to make teaching Computer Science an accessible option for teachers through professional training and community workshops. As a Code.org Regional Partner, the USC K-12 STEM Center has trained hundreds of teachers in Southern California districts (https://viterbik12.usc.edu/code-org/).
More than half of students at MUSD qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch and almost all of the students in the district come from an underrepresented racial group, with 95% coming from Hispanic/Latino backgrounds.
Since the Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) partnered with the USC Viterbi K-12 STEM Center, Torres has taught topics including programming, physical computing, and web development through Code.org’s Computer Science Discoveries (CSD) curriculum. Since completing CSD, Torres has introduced a robotics course to her student offerings.
“It’s incredible what our kids can do when they’re exposed to this type of learning. All you have to do is hand them the tools and watch the inquisitiveness and collaboration take over. It’s fascinating to watch them build, learn, take apart, and build again.”
Although California is a tech hub, there remains a drastic gap in Computer Science education throughout the state. Lack of access to Computer Science disproportionately affects low-income students, young women, and students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups leaving them unequipped to thrive in an increasingly digital world.
Torres added, “It’s all about giving students choices, and providing them opportunities to improve the quality of their lives and the lives of their families, communities, and society. We all need these brilliant kids!”
Torres’s dedication does not end in her classroom. One of her biggest goals is to create a comprehensive Computer Science teaching approach, or a Computer Science pathway, throughout MUSD. This way, students can continue their Computer Science journey beyond one topic or course, if they’d like.
“I am extremely lucky to have support from the district office of Dr. Scott Walker. It makes implementing a Computer Science pathway seem that much more plausible — and urgent,” Torres noted.
Since becoming a Code.org x USC Viterbi partnered teacher, Torres has also led training for high school teachers interested in bringing Computer Science, despite being a middle school teacher. She has also been a spokesperson for Code.org’s California Regional Partners video.
“We are so lucky to be working with Lorraine,” said Katie Mills, co-director of the USC STEM Center. “She is a mover, a shaker, and a leader in the Computer Science equity world.”
When asked how she juggles all of the responsibilities of being a teacher in a new space, Torres’ answer was simple:
“Our students deserve it. Our students deserve an opportunity to build a good life for themselves and their families, and Computer Science education provides that access.
It's not too late to apply for the USC K-12 STEM Center x Code.org teacher trainings happening this summer 2022. Find out more here: https://viterbik12.usc.
Published on June 2nd, 2022
Last updated on June 8th, 2022