When Gov. Ralph Northam announced equity in education as Virginia’s 2019 Datathon topic, Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) spotted an opportunity.
At the local level, one of the school division’s four cornerstones is “equity and opportunity,” which paralleled the event’s theme. At the state level, HCPS follows the Virginia Department of Education’s “Profile of a Virginia Graduate,” where content knowledge, workplace skills, community engagement and civic responsibility, and career exploration are four pillars of being “life ready.”
All of those principles were on display last week during a life-ready experience at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. Four teams of HCPS students from across the county shined among the 19 Datathon squads that presented at the conclusion of the two-day affair.
“This wasn’t a school win,” said Tiffany Hinton, director of the department of assessment, research and evaluation for HCPS. “This was a Henrico win. Everyone can celebrate the accomplishments of these teams because it wasn’t a school-based team.”
One group represented Deep Run High School, which has a specialty center for information technology. The other three teams united students who had never really worked together before, from high schools including including Douglas S. Freeman, Glen Allen, Mills E. Godwin, Highland Springs, J.R. Tucker and Varina.
These teen voices performed under tight deadlines. They gathered for a meet and greet the day before the competition. They followed the lead of generous mentors, including HCPS math teachers and professors from the school of education at Virginia Commonwealth University. They talked about their own experiences with equity issues and, after putting their heads together, decided to focus on the demographics of teachers versus students. They also looked at opportunity gaps, such as advanced placement course offerings.
“This type of purposeful discovery, creation, and collaboration can ignite curiosity and passion for STEM careers in Virginia’s students and workforce,” Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said in an August statement announcing the event’s focus.
Hinton said one HCPS team presented a portal to aggregate information for students, parents and educators to talk through equity in education issues. What are kids and teachers seeing in the classroom? How can schools deliver a multicultural curriculum and generate more dialogue? That vision earned the top prize.
Another team took a different approach. Rather than wrangling demographic data organized by individual schools or school districts, they transformed the numbers through the lens of legislative districts. The idea was to empower community members to identify elected officials and education equity issues in their area of representation. They placed third.
All of the students and professional teams who participated are winners. So are the government officials and sponsors who organized the event. Their sense of data-driven purpose is igniting solutions that we hope will become actionable results for the commonwealth.
— Chris Gentilviso