Eriyounda Loyd, a junior at Austin College & Career Academy, applies the principles of computer science to her basketball practice.

She uses algorithms – step-by-step sets of actions – when her basketball coaches tell her how to play. She is one of several female students in the elective Advanced Placement (AP) computer science classes offered at the high school.

Austin College & Career Academy is one of two dozen CPS schools to receive the College Board AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in AP computer science courses, CPS said in a press release last month. Advanced Placement courses are college-level courses that allow high-school students to earn college credits if they pass the required exam.

In the school year 2021-2022, women accounted for 70% of the students enrolled in AP computer science classes at Austin College & Career Academy, according to school representatives.

College Board gives the Computer Science Female Diversity Award to honor schools “for the important steps they’re taking to reach gender parity” as female participation in computer science careers remains low despite growing demand. Only 18% of students who earn bachelor’s degrees in computer science are women, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.

Loyd joined the class because she wanted to learn how to code. One of her class projects included “stitching” algorithms she had created to the program code.

“Some of it is hard, but most of it I get,” she said, adding she is interested in taking computer science courses in college even if that is not the major she chooses.

Interim Principal LaTacia Morgan-Green said the high school offers two advanced placement computer science courses, Computer Science A and Computer Science Principles.

Morgan-Green said it’s important that Austin students have access to computer science courses as they prepare for high-demand jobs.

Computer science teacher Tamarium Davis said the courses at Austin College & Career Academy teach students “everything they need to take the AP computer science exam.” For example, students learn to analyze and write code.

“I believe it gives them a grander push for confidence when they take the [AP] exam,” she said. “And it’s just gonna give them the confidence to take other AP courses.”

Students also get an opportunity to showcase themselves and use technology to “bring great ideas to life;” students have created apps and games as part of their class projects.

“They have great imaginations and create great work,” she said.

Even if students do not take the exam, given at the end of the class, they develop 21st century skills like teamwork, communication and collaboration that are key for any career path.

Starting in 2020, Chicago Public Schools has required all high school students to complete a minimum of one credit of computer science to be eligible for graduation, as reported by The Chicago Tribune.

Morgan-Greene said she wants to include advanced classes like cyber-security and robotics into the school’s offering to provide more opportunities for students. Currently, a robotics class is only available to students in out-of-school programming offered by the nonprofit After School Matters, she said.

The school also strives to increase students’ participation in AP computer science courses. Davis said it is challenging to keep students enrolled as some students drop out or only enroll in these courses once.

Morgan-Green said many incoming students are “behind,” so they are unable to include AP courses in their schedules because they need to “catch up” with required courses.

“What we’re doing now is working more closely with the counselor and scheduler to identify students earlier within their high school career,” she said, adding they advise students to start taking AP computer science courses in their sophomore year and have enough time to take all the courses they need.

Students like Loyd, who apply the problem-solving and creative skills learned through computer science in their everyday learning, give Davis the motivation to keep encouraging all students to enroll.

She said it is great Austin College & Career Academy was among the schools recognized for female representation, though she was a bit surprised by the news.

“I didn’t know that’s what I was doing when students were walking through the hall,” Davis said. “I didn’t realize I was recruiting more females than males.”