After last Thursday’s Cornell Town Hall presentation, Roosevelt Island Community Coalition (RICC) Co-Chairs Judith Buck and Ellen Polivy both took the microphone to thank Cornell for listening.
The presentation yielded good news: 6,300 truck trips have been avoided on Main Street, there is extensive on-site air-quality monitoring, the construction website is regularly updated, 2.5 acres of open space will be created in the first phase, the roadway south of Sportspark should be opening any day now, and the Goldwater murals from the WPA era have been preserved.
But the big news at this meeting was all about the relationship between Cornell Tech and its adopted school, PS/IS 217.
Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, spoke of the significance of the relationship. “I am here to be supportive. I know Cornell Tech is going to work on this issue. The answer to digital divide is good academics, PreK-12th grade.” Regarding education and technology, Brewer said, “This is just the beginning of the conversation. We are going to work really hard with you. It’s all in the details. You really have to dig down with the school and with Cornell. It’s the actual speed of the broadband and it’s also how students and parents work with the technology.” Brewer said the goal is to make PS/IS 217 number one.
Ben Kallos, described by Jane Swanson as “the tech [City] Council Member,” also made remarks in support of technology and the Cornell Tech-PS/IS 217 relationship. Kallos participated in the summer camp designed to teach computer science in the context of science, developed with the American Museum of Natural History. The two-week course taught students to collect data on birds in Central Park and on Roosevelt Island, and to analyze and report it using code they wrote in a language called Python. According to Cornell’s Director of K-12 education, Diane Levitt, Kallos “taught our students a bit about writing and debugging code.”
Brewer alluded to the biggest deliverable regarding the school we have seen yet, a comprehensive coding curriculum for teachers and students. Diane Levitt announced that the comprehensive coding is in the works, and coming later this year at the school.
Apparently, Cornell Tech has hired a master computer-science teacher, to be identified later in the month once her contract is finalized, to develop the sequence for this curriculum. Levitt explained that this teacher will be giving all PS/IS 217 teachers a broad overview of computer science and introducing them to the main concepts that “we want every child to know by the eighth grade,” so the school’s teachers can think about how to embed these ideas in their lesson plans.
She’ll also help teachers in grades 4 and up build specific lessons this year to start introducing those concepts. A curriculum for third grade will be added next year, and kindergarten through second grade the year after that. Levitt said, “I don’t think there is another school in the City that’s doing that.” For the families with younger children, there’s an upcoming family coding workshop for Pre-K through third grade.
Levitt explained their process. “Our steering committee, made up of representatives from the PTA, the school, and elected officials, meets monthly to plan our engagement and check in on progress. Cornell Tech will be an active, visible presence at PS/IS 217. Working together, we’re building a school that will truly prepare students to be citizens and creators in the digital age.”
There is another computer hackathon coming up. This one is Halloween-themed, and called "Let’s Code RI." Seventy Cornell Tech students have signed on to volunteer, double the 35 who volunteered at the last one.
In addition to "Let’s Code RI," Cornell Tech has coordinated with PS/IS 217 Principal Mandana Beckman to bring the school’s students to the Cornell Tech campus in Chelsea for a tour. A panel will follow with some graduate students about careers in technology. The Cornell Tech students will demonstrate the projects they’re working on, and talk about their academic and career paths.
Cornell Tech is doing more than just bringing tech to Roosevelt Island by taking on the entire City. Levitt mentioned Computer Science For All, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year, $80-million plan to bring computer science education to every student in the New York City public schools.
Computer Science For All is a public/private partnership between the City of New York and the private sector, which are bearing project costs equally. Levitt said, “We are very excited to be in partnership with the Department of Education and CSNYC, the nonprofit managing the initiative, and look forward to contributing to the City’s work with what we’re learning at PS/IS 217, and then bringing the professional development and curriculum being offered there back here, to Roosevelt Island.”
Cornell’s Town Hall presentations are available online.