Danny Corliss is in high demand. Someday soon, his students will be, too.

Corliss teaches at Albany Options School, the alternative high school program that's part of the Greater Albany Public Schools district. He began there as a math teacher, but last year he started a new class: computer programming.

The class sets AOS apart from many other schools in the mid-valley, as well as much of the state and most of the nation. But Corliss figures that won't be the case for long.

"I think society will demand that it grow in popularity," he says.

A Gallup study commissioned by Google and released earlier this year found only about 40 percent of schools nationwide offer computer programming. A similar study published last year put that figure even lower, at around 25 percent.

That's despite the fact that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that computer and information systems manager jobs will jump by 15 percent in the next eight to 10 years, more than double the average growth rate for all occupations. (In the mid-valley, the prediction is 11.5 percent in that same time period, according to Oregon Employment Department Workforce and Economic Research data.)

A shift in emphasis over the past couple of decades toward basic subjects directly related to graduation, such as math and reading, prompted many schools to drop their computer programming classes or let them fade away when certified teachers left or retired.

Opportunities are beginning to grow, however. 

Corliss learned about programming from his father, Dennis Corliss, who taught a computer class for many years at Corvallis High School. When he retired, the class went away. But parent requests prompted Principal Matt Boring to resurrect it this year, with the instruction provided on a part-time basis in collaboration with Linn-Benton Community College.

Elsewhere in the mid-valley, Crescent Valley High in Corvallis offers computer science classes that explore web design, coding, database management and other basic computing skills. 

In Albany, Memorial and Calapooia middle schools both offer technology classes. In Lebanon, Lebanon High offers web design, game programming and Advanced Placement Computer Science. A handful of middle and high school clubs and robotics teams in both Linn and Benton counties also offer programming opportunities. Summer coding camps are growing in popularity.

Thanks to his father, Corliss grew up working with computers. He minored in the subject in college and could have had a job in the computing world, but found teaching was his real passion.

When Hunter approached faculty members, asking what they could do to draw students in and keep them connected with school, Corliss saw the chance to bring in his favorite hobby.

Oregon doesn't certify teachers in computer science, and AOS, like most schools, doesn't have its own computer science department. 

"This class is kind of my own brainchild," he says.

Corliss' students work with a programming language called Python, but that's neither the most difficult nor most important aspect of the class, he said. The important part is learning to think like a computer: understanding its capabilities and how it learns to do what you want.

"The goal is the student will end up writing a list of instructions the computer will understand and have the computer follow the directions," he explains, nodding at the six youths frowning in concentration at the monitors on their desks. 

"The challenge: The computer takes things very literally."

Andrew Middleton, a junior who's in his second year in Corliss' class, can attest to that. He's working on a first-person computer game based on a figure walking around a dungeon. He's been struggling to get his program to show a line on the screen in a particular place no matter whether the player's character is close to it or far away.

"It was a lot of staring there: Why isn't this working?" the 16-year-old says.

Middleton had thought about architecture as a career but became interested in computer programming while making modifications to a popular online game, Minecraft. 

Friends would tell him, "We should change this," he remembers saying about various factors of the game. "I figured out how to do that, and I did it."

Computer programming turned out to be more fun — and more frustrating — the more he got into it, Middleton says. "It's almost humbling," he said. "You think, this (problem) is so simple, why don't they fix this? Then you do this and realize, man, that's a lot of work."

It is a lot of work, and it isn't for everyone, said Dodi Coreson, computer systems faculty chair for Linn-Benton Community College. It requires a lot of patience, good problem solving skills, and — perhaps most important — a thorough grounding in math.

Students who are interested in a computer-related field should take all the math they can, especially algebra and calculus, Coreson says.

Those who do well have plenty of options for a career, however. A study published last year by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, using Census Bureau data, analyzed average wages for 137 college majors and found jobs in computers, statistics and mathematics came in second place. Students in those jobs earned an average $43,000 right out of school.

Architecture and engineering topped the list, but computing skills are necessary for those jobs, too, Coreson says.

“Programming's not going away. You have apps on your phone? Those are programs," she said. "Facebook is a big program."

Various organizations are working to capitalize on the rising interest in career and technology education. 

Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and to bring in more women and minorities, is dedicated to making computer science available to every student in every school. To spur interest, the group organizes an annual campaign called Hour of Code.

Corvallis High School is one of the locations participating in this year's Hour of Code, from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5, in Room 106. Participation is free and all levels are welcome. 

Sometimes, all it takes is a small taste of a new experience to start a student on a lifelong career path, Corliss says. "We need to have that opportunity for kids to get exposure to this."

At LBCC, Coreson agrees.

"There is a bright future for people who can program," she said. "High schools need to get on the bandwagon.”


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