CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s first-ever computer coding school is now offering free introductory classes to students and educators living in the state.

The course, which teaches the basics of the widely used programming language JavaScript, is self-paced and taught entirely online. For those who don’t qualify for the education discount, the course costs $99.

“Learning computer science is like learning a foreign language. It takes a lot of effort because you’re starting to learn how to speak the language of a computer and write commands to get it to do what you want, either on a website or a mobile app,” said Eric Trowbridge, founder and chief executive officer of The Array School of Technology and Design.

Array, which also offers a four-month-long coding bootcamp course that costs $15,000 and connects students with tech apprenticeships, recently transitioned to offering all of its instruction remotely.

“Up until the pandemic, we’ve offered in-person classes, mostly for people interested in switching careers. Instead of going back to school for two or four years, they can complete it in months,” said Trowbridge, who added that people have been asking if they could take online classes for years.

“We just weren’t sure if we had the resources or the time, but the pandemic put that right in front of our face. We though this was the right time to bring our curriculum and instruction into a digital and online format.”

Trowbridge, a Cheyenne native who worked for Apple before moving back to launch Array in 2016, helped advocate for the incorporation of computer science standards into the state’s K-12 schools. Those standards will go into effect during the 2022-23 school year.

“We felt like we had a moral obligation to create content to help some of these teachers start learning some of the fundamentals so they can take them to the classroom,” Trowbridge said about why the school decided to offer the introductory courses for free to Wyoming students and educators.

“We’re also focused on economic diversification. Technology is not going away anytime soon. There’s not a single industry – agriculture, mining, education – that won’t be impacted as technology moves forward. The ability to learn computer coding skills in the 21st century is going to be an absolute necessity to getting high-paying, good jobs.”

Array is able to offer the free courses to those in Wyoming’s education sector because of a partnership with the Rotary Club of Cheyenne, which donated $3,000 to help cover some of the costs of offering the introductory courses.

“We have an opportunity here to help our kids in Wyoming potentially find a career in coding,” said Brent Lathrop, president of the Rotary Club of Cheyenne. “We have some really bright people in Wyoming. If we can help them get the right education, they can be leaders in this country.”

Lathrop added that he’s planning to reach out to other Rotary Club chapters in the region to let them know about the benefits of supporting computer science education.

He’s also hoping this partnership – and the rise in remote working spurred by the pandemic – will help Wyoming retain more skilled workers, something the state has struggled with, especially amid the collapse of the fossil fuel industry.

“We could get someone from Hawk Springs, for instance, who learns how to code and works for a tech company in another state or country” Lathrop said. “But they’re living in Wyoming, raising a family here and putting money into the economy here. How great would that be?”

Amanda Buss, a speech language pathologist at Alta Vista Elementary School, is one of 25 people who signed up to take the free introductory class, which is expected to take about a month to complete.

“I have a strong passion for technology,” said Buss, who often brings in old computers and programmable toys for her students to explore. She’s already taken some free coding classes through other institutions, but was excited for the opportunity to learn JavaScript through Array.

“I’m planning on sharing what I learn through Array with my students so that they may consider a STEM career,” she said. “Array’s class is an incredible opportunity for educators in Wyoming to learn how to code.”

Although Buss doesn’t plan on leaving education for a career in tech anytime soon, she said she hopes that learning how to code will provide an example for her students. “I want them to see that a wide variety of people are interested in coding and might inspire them to pick technology for a career.”

Students and teachers in Wyoming can request a coupon to make the program free by emailing [email protected].

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at [email protected] or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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