Blake's Brainiacs: CAST Tech High adds new programs for expanding curriculum in computer science

Students learn UX/UI for web design, find opportunities in cybersecurity

By Diana Winters - Executive Producer, SA Live

Now in its second year, CAST Tech High School has expanded to include freshmen and sophomores, and it's adding even more high-tech opportunities for students. KSAT meteorologist Kaiti Blake visited the school’s shared campus with Fox Tech High School this week to find out more about the new programs that will help CAST Tech graduates find high-paying jobs as they enter the career world.

"We build the community – you know, building this sort of tech literacy — so that we can have a critical mass of awareness and understanding," said Don Davis, master teacher of computer science at CAST Tech.

This fall semester, the school launched a career pathway in user experience/user interface (UX/UI) design, becoming the first school in the nation to teach the subject at the high school level.

"We found out that a UX/UI designer who can code -- which is what they're learning at the school, as well with their pre-AP computer science classes – that's going to make them a unicorn," said Belinda Medellin, CAST Tech master teacher of UX/UI.

So what is UX/UI? Both elements -- UX and UI -- are crucial to web design and work closely together. They refer to different parts of the design process. User experience is more on the technical and psychological side of how a website is built, with a focus on how people who visit the site will connect with the company it represents. User interface deals with the visual aspects of a website, akin to graphic design.

"We start off as freshmen with digital art and animation, so they learn the basics of graphic design, vector art, bitmap art," Medellin said. "The kids last year are the ones that helped me to realize this is a path we need to take."

Medellin said many of the projects she assigns her students focus on bettering the community they serve.

"We do something called project-based learning," said Medellin. "So the projects have to, at the end, produce something that the community can benefit from."

Last year's CAST Tech freshmen created a vector art coloring book and distributed it to patients at the Children's Hospital of San Antonio down the street from the school.

SLIDESHOW: COLORING BOOK CREATIONS FROM CAST TECH HIGH

App Users: If you're unable to see the slideshow, click the link to view the photos.

"When they finally ended that project, they were proud of the work they did," Medellin said.

Another new program at the school allows students to become Red Hat certified, making CAST Tech the first high school in Texas to be endorsed by the industry standard for cybersecurity. Davis, who  teaches the course, said the industry has a huge need for Red Hat certified employees, and that certification will allow many of the students at CAST Tech to apply for middle-income salary jobs as soon as they graduate high school.

"Something like 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Red Hat. So that's why we're bringing the skill to students – other schools don't offer it," Davis said.

The school also works with the CyberPatriot program, created to help direct students toward careers in cybersecurity or other careers in science, technology, engineering and math. It hosts the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, where top teams can earn all-expenses paid trips to Baltimore for the National Finals Competition and win scholarship money.​

One of the most important benefits for students at CAST Tech is the school's internship program. It aims to provide each student at least one internship opportunity before graduation.

"We try to connect with the industry partners already with this school, but we're taking it further," Medellin said.

Next year, CAST Tech will grow to serve three grades, teaching freshmen, sophomores and juniors. By 2020, the school will enroll seniors, as well.

To learn more about CAST Tech High School, its new programs and the lottery process for incoming students, visit the school's website.

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