Instructor Tom Whaley holds up the new switch – hardware that can connect all of the classroom computers to a single local network – his students will install during the class period. (The Enterprise/Isabella Garcia)

NYSSA — Federal officials project there will be a need in the coming years for more than a half a million workers skilled in programming, wiring and computer technology – all skills Nyssa, Vale and Adrian high school students can learn from Tom Whaley’s new computer science class.

The computer science program is one of the courses developed by Treasure Valley Technical, an initiative by the Malheur Education Service District to address poverty and workforce development in the county. Computer science is its fifth program, including the highly popular welding course that expanded to Adrian and Huntington this year.

Mark Redmond, Malheur Education Service District superintendent, said the enrollment in technical classes has doubled over the past year, jumping from 109 students to 230 this school year.

Previously, computer science courses meant learning programs like Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheets – skills that are now being taught in area elementary schools, according to Redmond.

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Whaley, who’s been teaching computer science since 1975, is passionate about the opportunities computer science can provide students. His class is comparable to an introductory college course and can serve as an indicator for students on whether the field is for them.

“If they feel comfortable with this class, they are prepared to pursue courses in college,” Whaley said.

Each computer science class is capped at 12 students. Coding can be nitpicky, especially when a student is learning the language.

“When you get into several hundred lines of code it can be difficult to find problems with too many students,” Whaley said. Currently, there are seven students enrolled at Vale High School and eleven students in both the Adrian and Nyssa classes.

Whaley has developed a curriculum intended to keep students’ interest. In the first weeks of class, Whaley had students set up the computer lab space by teaching them how to strip cables, order wires and assess the best physical set up to meet class needs.

When the class moves onto programming languages like Python and JavaScript, Whaley uses languages that can be used to program video games. Showing students such uses can motivate them to push past the frustrating parts of learning to code, Whaley said. Whaley also plans on using Alice – programming specifically designed to connect with girls learning to code. Not only is Whaley committed to retaining girls in STEM fields, but he sees great opportunities for women coders in the job market.

“Facebook is crying for girl programmers,” Whaley said.

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