Ex­panded VR agree­ment an­nounced dur­ing visit

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - JAY BELL

The state an­nounced an ex­panded agree­ment for vir­tual re­al­ity equip­ment with Face­book Inc. Mon­day as Gov. Asa Hutchin­son vis­ited two Hot Springs high schools.

The gov­er­nor con­cluded his fifth com­puter cod­ing tour of Arkansas high schools Mon­day with stops at Lake­side High School and Hot Springs World Class High School. The tour pro­moted com­puter science with vis­its to Har­ri­son, Alpena, Green For­est, Beebe and For­rest City last week.

High school and mid­dle school stu­dents in grades 7-12 filled Lake­side’s Ath­letic Com­plex for Hutchin­son’s visit. He com­mended the high school for the will­ing­ness of teach­ers and stu­dents to join in the state ini­tia­tive to in­crease com­puter science ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The high school re­ported an in­crease of 72 stu­dents en­rolled in com­puter science cour­ses dur­ing the 2016-17 school year to 391 stu­dents this year. Hutchin­son also noted a na­tional deficit of fe­male stu­dents in the fields of science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics, but Lake­side in­creased its par­tic­i­pa­tion from 26 per­cent of fe­male stu­dents in com­puter science to 51 per­cent this school year.

“Arkansas is lead­ing the na­tion in com­puter science ed­u­ca­tion,” Hutchin­son said. “And, let me tell you, Lake­side looks to be right at the top in Arkansas.”

Hutchin­son an­nounced the de­tails of the agree­ment with Face­book’s TechS­tart pro­gram dur­ing the as­sem­bly at Lake­side. Face­book part­nered with the state in a first-of-its-kind part­ner­ship ear­lier this year to do­nate ap­prox­i­mately 400 vir­tual re­al­ity class­room kits to ad­min­is­ter the TechS­tart pro­gram to ap­prox­i­mately 250 schools.

“Face­book has com­mit­ted to pro­vide a vir­tual re­al­ity kit to ev­ery high school in Arkansas,” Hutchin­son said.

Face­book de­vel­oped TechS­tart to give stu­dents ac­cess to com­puter science and vir­tual re­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion as a way to gen­er­ate in­ter­est in re­lated fields. The pro­gram of­fers vir­tual re­al­ity in­struc­tion, cur­ricu­lum sup­port and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment for ed­u­ca­tors, ac­cess to com­puter science events and con­nec­tions to en­gi­neer­ing men­tors.

The class­room kits in­cluded com­put­ers, cam­eras and Ocu­lus Rift equip­ment. The re­cip­i­ent schools were based on the per­cent­ages of stu­dents who qual­i­fied for free and re­duced price meals.

“Un­for­tu­nately, Lake­side missed out on that, but, as the gov­er­nor said ear­lier, we are glad to an­nounce that we are rolling that out statewide,” said An­thony Owen, Arkansas De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor of com­puter science ed­u­ca­tion.

The new agree­ment will ex­tend to all of the more than 360 pub­lic high schools in Arkansas. Each school will re­ceive an Ocu­lus Rift touch con­troller and 30 vir­tual re­al­ity view­ers, which were not in­cluded in the orig­i­nal do­na­tion.

Face­book’s fi­nal do­na­tion

will in­clude more than 550 vir­tual re­al­ity kits and a fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment of more than $1.3 mil­lion to the #ARKid­sCanCode Ini­tia­tive. The state part­nered with the Arkansas Pub­lic School Re­source Cen­ter to aid the ADE’s Com­puter Science Division in the dis­tri­bu­tion and fa­cil­i­ta­tion of the new re­sources.

Scott Smith, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the APSRC, at­tended Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment, as did ADE Com­mis­sioner Johnny Key. Hutchin­son noted the sup­port of the state leg­is­la­ture, which pro­vided $5 mil­lion for teacher train­ing for com­puter science classes. Leg­is­la­tors in at­ten­dance in­cluded state rep­re­sen­ta­tives Mickey Gates, R-District 22; Bruce Cozart, R-District 24; Les War­ren, R-District 25; and Laurie Rush­ing, R-District 26.

Hutchin­son spoke to the en­tire junior class of Hot Springs High in the school’s John­nie Mae Mackey Theatre. The gov­er­nor said his tours are meant to in­crease stu­dent in­ter­est in com­puter science, show them job op­por­tu­ni­ties in re­lated fields and op­por­tu­ni­ties to make a wide-reach­ing im­pact.

“I will make you a prom­ise, if you take com­puter science, there will be a job for you when­ever you learn your cod­ing skills right here in Arkansas,” Hutchin­son said at Hot Springs. “There is great op­por­tu­nity for us. I have never been more op­ti­mistic.

“I have done a lot of things as gov­er­nor. It has taken me to Europe, Cuba and China bring­ing jobs to Arkansas, but I think noth­ing im­pacts our fu­ture more than this right here and that is the op­por­tu­nity for com­puter science for our stu­dents in the fu­ture.”

Stu­dents at both schools viewed a video about the im­por­tance of cod­ing with Arkansas busi­nesses and em­ploy­ees. The video high­lighted in-state com­pa­nies, such as Appt­egy, Elyxor and Me­tova.

Hutchin­son said Wal­mart is even seek­ing em­ploy­ees for cod­ing to com­pete with on­line re­tail­ers, such as Ama­zon. He said 1 mil­lion cod­ing jobs are pro­jected to be un­filled within the next four years.

The gov­er­nor vis­ited the tech hub of Sil­i­con Val­ley in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter he was elected in 2014. He said com­pa­nies were ea­ger to see Arkansas stu­dents learn com­puter science and move to Cal­i­for­nia to work.

“Peo­ple love Arkansas,” Hutchin­son said. “Let’s build tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies right here, so that our tal­ent can stay here and they can make money here. And we are do­ing that.”

Hutchin­son’s tour of Lake­side in­cluded a show­case of stu­dent projects and skills from the pri­mary, in­ter­me­di­ate and mid­dle schools. He vis­ited Hot Springs High’s En­vi­ron­men­tal and Spa­tial Tech­nolo­gies class­room with Hot Springs Mayor Pay McCabe and Matt Dozier, pres­i­dent and CEO of the EAST Ini­tia­tive.

“As I go out, I also learn a lot,” Hutchin­son said. “I learn what the stu­dents are do­ing and how im­pres­sive these stu­dents are in the EAST lab.”

Stu­dents from four high schools in Arkansas were se­lected to at­tend Face­book’s head­quar­ters in Cal­i­for­nia in July. Owen said en­thu­si­asm for the state part­ner­ship from Face­book was cul­ti­vated when rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the com­pany at­tended the 2017 EAST Con­fer­ence at the Hot Springs Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and Bank of the Ozarks Arena.

“Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Cal­i­for­nia came to me af­ter that con­fer­ence and said that is the best stu­dent-fo­cused tech­nol­ogy con­fer­ence they have been to any­where in the United States of Amer­ica,” Owen said.

Hutchin­son said he em­pha­sizes ba­sic com­puter science cour­ses in high school, but ca­reer ed­u­ca­tion classes and EAST help en­gage stu­dents in cod­ing and re­lated STEM fields.

“Stu­dents re­ally like that very prac­ti­cal side of their projects,” Hutchin­son said. “Teach­ers make all of the dif­fer­ence in the world. When­ever the teach­ers learn the skills and you’ve got more teach­ers, more stu­dents re­spond to that.”

Hutchin­son said he is im­pressed to see stu­dents work on such com­plex projects in EAST, but he is also ex­cited to learn many of them want to be­come en­trepreneurs.

“That means cre­at­ing jobs,” Hutchin­son said. “It is won­der­ful they want to have mo­ti­va­tion to make money and change the world at the same time, but that will cre­ate tech­nol­ogy jobs in this state. These kids will be do­ing it down the road.”

The Sen­tinel-Record/Richard Ras­mussen

COM­PUTER SCIENCE: Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, cen­ter, learned about a math for kids pro­gram cre­ated by Emma Fer­gu­son, right, dur­ing his visit to Lake­side High School Mon­day. Fel­low Lake­side stu­dent Han­nah Whor­ton helped film the visit for the school’s...

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