USC Viterbi’s “Adopt-a-School” Program Announces Partnerships with and Sesame Workshop

Jackie Culp | November 13, 2018

USC Viterbi VAST programs gain attention for community engagement in computer sciences, landing new partnerships from leading STEM organizations

New USC STEM partner organizes the annual Hour of Code campaign, which has become a global movement reaching over 180 countries and more than 600 million hours served. Photo courtesy of

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher (VAST) PreK-12 STEM education outreach program has teamed up with two national partners, both global leaders in STEM outreach and education.

USC VAST is now the Southern California Regional Partner of, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Additionally, USC VAST also is launching a program to engage Latino families in computer science literacy in Boyle Heights, thanks to support from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Program El Círculo Familiar with Support from Joan Ganz Cooney Center

Created by USC VAST, El Círculo Familiar is an innovative program comprised of partnerships with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, PBS SoCal and the Critical Media Project at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. These organizations have come together to create a “family-school-community-university ecosystem” to reach out to Latino families to build digital literacy.

The program will be built on VAST’s current computer science project called Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools (BOTS), wedding BOTS’ focus on teachers with the opportunity to bring families into the learning ecosystem. Research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center shows that this type of holistic approach to digital learning works well with Latino and immigrant families with young children.

El Círculo Familiar reaches out to families of 1st and 2nd grade students at three elementary schools in Boyle Heights, where USC VAST’s in-school computer science is provided through BOTS. PBS SoCal’s Early Education team will introduce these families to digital learning through bilingual Saturday playshops, donating tablets loaded with PBS’ educational apps so families can extend their growing media fluency at home.

The Critical Media Project at USC Annenberg will use interactive techniques to empower families and students while countering some stereotypes that suggest only certain people have the knowledge and skills to become proficient in STEM, robotics and computer science. VAST will also add USC student volunteers and campus lab tours to further bolster the families’ identities as STEM learners.

“Our goal is to help families, students and teachers work in tandem to gain confidence with their computational skills as well as to bust through misperceptions and stereotypes of who can and should do coding,” said USC VAST director Katie Mills.

VAST Becomes A Regional Partner of Code.Org

Adding to the momentum, USC VAST has also become a new regional partner of, a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools.

The California State Board of Education recently adopted computer science (CS) standards for schools, which largely lack the resources to respond to these new guidelines. Since 2014, USC VAST has been working with schools in South Los Angeles and beyond to build their CS capacity. The partnership with enables USC Viterbi’s VAST program to reach schools from the Inland Empire to Bakersfield helping them integrate computational thinking and CS to their curricula.

“We’re proud to welcome USC VAST as a regional partner and excited about their broader efforts to increase support and opportunities for under-resourced schools,” said Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of “Computer science education and skills are crucial in the 21st century, and all students should have the opportunity to learn.”

School districts recognize that professional development for teachers is the first step in empowering PreK-12 schools to add CS courses. USC VAST is currently recruiting for a five-day training immersion this summer, awarding scholarships to two cohorts of teachers from under-resourced schools. Throughout the next academic year when teachers implement the new CS courses, USC VAST will continue hosting the “Community of Practice” cohorts, thus completing’s nine-day professional learning program.

“The cost of this nine-day training series is 100 percent covered by scholarships from for teachers coming from under-resourced schools,” said Mills. “It also emphasizes active, project-based learning and encourages teachers to adapt the fun lessons to fit their own students’ needs.”

Supported by companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, provides the leading curriculum for K-12 computer science in the largest school districts in the nation. It organizes the annual Hour of Code campaign, which has become a global movement reaching over 180 countries and more than 600 million hours served.

With this partnership, teachers who are registered for the summer training will also have VIP access to VAST’s outreach events, including Code Dojo, a STEM Spotlight on Artificial Intelligence, and the annual USC Robotics Open House. Teachers will also be eligible for continuing education units.

“We are very pleased to be a regional partner of these two important organizations that prepare students with the skills and mindsets to compete and thrive in today’s fast changing world,” said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. “This partnership has been the result of Viterbi’s strong efforts in K-12 outreach and particularly the leadership of VAST director Katie Mills.”

With USC VAST’s broad reach throughout Southern California as’s regional partner and El Círculo Familiar’s focus on the Boyle Heights ecosystem of early education, USC Viterbi is building capacity of schools to provide computational thinking and digital skills that are necessary for California’s workforce and economy and adding much-needed diversity to the college and career pathways in computer science.

Published on November 13th, 2018

Last updated on November 15th, 2018

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