Central High pushes new focus on computer science classes

As technology progresses and computers and smart phones become the new norm in our lives, computer science is looking more and more like a smart career choice. In fact, it’s one of a handful of careers that offers a pretty high starting salary right out of college. But in western Wisconsin, teachers say high school prep for the major is virtually non-existent – and they’re trying to change that.

In 2013, computer science majors were the 2nd highest earning degree with a starting salary of $60,000, according to Forbes. The career is clearly lucrative, but in Wisconsin, the subject hasn’t quite caught on with high schools. There are only about a hundred computer science teachers teaching in the roughly 400 high schools across the state, according to John Crayton, a computer sciences teacher at Central High School in La Crosse.

“There are projections in the next 8 to 12 years that there’s going to be three times as many jobs available in computer science than the projected college graduates,” Crayton added.

Classes here in La Crosse are few and far between, as well. Crayton says Central has offered programming classes for decades, but sophomore Sam Lindner said he’s struggling to find classes that are on par with his experience.

“I’ve been around computers ever since I’ve been a kid,” Lindner says. “There really isn’t anything that goes into programming at this school at my knowledge [level.] I wish there were those opportunities, because if there were, there would be more people interested in the subject.” 

Lindner said he’s considering computer science as a future career path, because of its flexibility, challenges and good pay. He’s already exhausted his computer class options at Central after completing Programming I and II – but this coming fall, he’ll enroll in a brand-new class the school is offering in an attempt to highlight the growing subject.

The course is called “Exploring Computer Science,” and Clayton will teach it – in part thanks to a Wisconsin-wide scholarship that’s paying for teachers to learn how to teach new computer science classes to their high school students. Lindner said he’s looking forward to it.

“It’s a step toward the right direction, because I don’t think there’s anywhere near enough emphasis on computer science in high school,” Lindner said.