Throughout the 2019–2020 school year, our We Are DOE series will highlight some of the everyday heroes of NYC’s public schools. Featuring a cross-section of the DOE’s 140,000+ employees across the five boroughs, We Are DOE showcases some of the many unsung heroes who help keep the largest school system in the country running daily.
Today, we return one last time to M.S. 217 to speak with another computer science teacher who is helping bring Computer Science to All to life for our students. Please welcome M.S. 217’s first-year computer science teacher, Carolina Restrepo.
“Seventh grade is a perfect time to teach girls how to do computer coding, because this is when they are starting to dream of who they want to be. Even though men now dominate the computer field, my girls see me doing it and say, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a try.’ And they are starting to blossom,” says Carolina Restrepo, a first-year computer science teacher at M.S. 217, Robert A. Van Wyck in Jamaica, Queens.
Carolina joined M.S. 217 as a math teacher for students learning English as a New Language in 2016 after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Queens College. Last year, she decided to start a “Girls Who Code” afterschool program for about 10 female students, learning along with them how to use Scratch, an MIT-designed computer programming language. She also showed them videos about influential professional women in science and technology. “The girls loved it,” Carolina says. “And they told me it was making them feel empowered to learn about opportunities they hadn’t thought of before.” By incorporating each student’s background and identity as assets to the learning process, Carolina’s classes reinforce an approach that the Department of Education is pursuing citywide called Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education.
Excited about the Girls Who Code experience, Carolina decided to sign up for the Department of Education’s Computer Science for All summer training program, which includes two weeks of intensive professional development and continued support throughout the school year. This fall, she began leading a computer science class of about 20 girls and boys.
Most of her math students are also taking computer science with her—and are finding that the two courses together are helping to improve their problem solving skills. “Coding requires taking a lot of baby steps to get from where you are now to where you want to end up,” Carolina says. “And I’m finding that is helping my students in math when they are struggling with, say, multiplying reciprocals. Developing the patience to break a task down into manageable pieces makes a big difference.”
Carolina also thinks computer science is a valuable addition to the curriculum because it motivates the students to learn. She says, “We missed a computer science class yesterday because of a holiday, and the students actually said, ‘Is there something we can do for homework?’ That hadn’t happened to me before!”