Fellowship honors Gwinnett teacher’s innovation, creativity

Shana White, a teacher at Sweetwater Middle School, handled a curveball earlier in her life by shifting her career goal.

Then she showed her adaptability and creativity again by applying technology to sports as a physical education teacher, which led her eventually to teaching computer science.

Now her problem-solving skills and innovative spirit have been rewarded with an Equity Fellowship from the national Computer Science Teachers Association.

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White is among 10 recipients of the inaugural fellowship, which awards a $2,000 stipend, a year to work on a program that will bring access to technology skills to low-income students and minorities around the world, a monthly trip to Chicago for progress updates and a wealth of support and resources from sponsors Microsoft and Silicon Valley nonprofit Puralsight One.

To the relief of students, parents and school officials, she’ll continue teaching during the fellowship.

Although White started her college career as a basketball player at Wake Forest University with a goal to become a physical therapist, a knee injury cut short her playing days.

“I started coaching and eventually earned a master’s degree in physical education from Winthrop University and became a teacher — following in the footsteps of family members before me.”

With PE classes of 35 to 40 students she incorporated science and computer technology into lessons and practical applications.

Learning different types of pitches for baseball, the students would calculate how many revolutions of the ball it would take to cross home plate and how variables such as the distance would affect the force and speed needed for a curveball, for example. White used iPad apps to demonstrate these concepts.

She also created an app so parents and colleagues could keep track of when students had to dress out for gym class.

“As I was becoming more and more involved with the computer science world, I realized that learning these skills might be an easier way to level that ‘equity playing field.’ Computer science is a way for kids to express themselves and have some type of autonomy over their education. It can open up pathways that they might not even know exist and empowers them to change their world,” she said in an article for Georgia Tech.

Much of White’s early computer science expertise was self-taught, but it caught the eye of her principal, and she was moved into the role of instructional technology coordinator.

White met with other fellows earlier this month in Chicago to plan their projects. She’ll be working with another teacher from California via computer and meet face to face during monthly sessions back in Chicago.

“When you show students that you believe in them and respect them and trust in their abilities, they give that back to you,” she said. “We’ve already begun to create a program that will level the playing field for students all over the world.”

Her unconventional background gave White a different perspective from many traditional computer science educators. She quickly became an emerging voice in computer science education. In 2016, White was recognized as the PBS LearningMedia Lead Digital Innovator for Georgia and in 2017 as an Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Emerging Leader.

Her commitment to education included community involvement, and that led to a fellowship last year at the Georgia Tech College of Computing’s Constellations Center. Part of the center’s vision is to provide more computer science education to minorities and women.

None of this surprises Jay Nebel, principal at Sweetwater who was an assistant principal at White’s previous school.

“She empowers her students to be the best that they can be and instills in them confidence in their abilities,” he said. “Anything (White) sets her mind to, she’ll accomplish it.”

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