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LAUSD senior scores highest in nation on college-level computer science course

Cari Spencer | March 7, 2023

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Los Angeles Unified senior Yanxi Rodriguez (LAUSD)

For Los Angeles Unified senior Yanxi Rodriguez, there was no sign the school day would deviate from any of the others that had passed in January — until her computer science teacher told her to check her email. 

“Mr. Flores told me, ‘Congratulations, did you see your email?’ And I’m like, ‘What email? I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ ” said Rodriguez, a senior at Reseda Charter High School.

Rodriguez checked her email. She found out that out of over 220 high school students enrolled in an online computer science course through Stanford University, she had earned the highest score in the nation. 

“It was really shocking, so I didn’t have much of a reaction,” she said. “I was happy of course, but out of everyone on top it was very surprising … I’m pretty proud of myself for everything. I’m thankful to everyone who supported me — my teacher, my friends.”

The course is part of the National Education Equity Lab, a program launched in 2019 bringing courses from colleges to low income public high school students across the country. Currently, eight LAUSD high schools are involved, offering classes in geography, computer science and microeconomics from Georgetown University, Stanford University and Barnard College.

There are plans to expand the National Education Equity Lab partnership this semester and in the fall, although the district is still completing paperwork and finding schools and courses that are the right fit, said Micaela Vazquez-Hahn, the LAUSD college readiness coordinator.

Last year, superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he wanted the program to expand in an effort to draw families back into the district and boost enrollment numbers. As Miami school superintendent, he doubled the number of schools partnered with the National Education Equity Lab from 11 to more than 20.

Presently, the eight participating schools are: East Valley High School, John C. Fremont Senior High, Huntington Park Senior High, Thomas Jefferson Senior High, Reseda Charter High School, Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, Venice High School and Wilson High School.

Because Rodriguez scored in the top 20 percent of all National Education Equity Lab students, she is now part of the program’s honor society. Her membership unlocks access to college mentors and academic resources. 

But she’s also unlocked something else: a new goal. 

While Rodriguez does not yet know where she will attend university next year, she hopes to major in computer science and explore game design. Prior to taking the course, she had never touched code. She knew she liked math, but she also liked art and writing, even dreaming of publishing a book. Now, she’s found her interests overlapping in a new way.

“That can tie into games as well, because if you want to make a story based game you need to know how to write the story in the first place and storyboard it,” she said. 

In the future, she sees not only herself tackling the STEM field, but more girls doing so too. At Reseda, she’s part of the club Girls Build LA. The group presents to their classmates about skills and opportunities in STEM, ultimately hoping to support girls as they explore the field.

Girls supporting girls has been central to Rodriguez’s STEM experience so far. Of the 16 students enrolled in the Stanford computer science course at Reseda, only five were girls. 

“We were already friends beforehand, so it just brought us closer together because we helped each other study for exams and helped each other understand the process if we didn’t understand how to do something,” Rodriguez said. 

Mario Flores, the Reseda teacher who helped guide the students through the course, said this is what made Rodriguez and her friends stand out. 

“They would help each other and figure it out together. It felt kind of like just one big team,” Flores said. “They just wanted to learn and own their own education.”

Other LAUSD students who participated in National Education Equity Lab courses have found success, too. An additional 25 students were welcomed into the honors society.

“With those kinds of numbers, with only [three] courses being offered last fall, I think we can tell that LA Unified students are very interested in challenging themselves and being part of this rigorous course taking,” Vazquez-Hahn said.

Rodriguez wants to encourage other students to give coding a chance — especially girls.

“Definitely do it. We need to be represented,” she said. “I don’t think you should be put off by how hard the work is or if you think that’s a problem. I went into computer science not knowing anything about it or how to program, and once you get going, you should be fine.”

This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Cari Spencer is a senior at the University of Southern California, originally from the suburbs of Minneapolis. She is studying journalism and sociology.

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