RePublic Opens First K-12 Computer Science Center in the South

On Tuesday, Mayor Megan Barry joined RePublic Schools to celebrate the opening of the Thomas H. Cato Computer Science Center at RePublic High School. The first of its kind in the South, the center will serve as a hub for intellectual exploration - not only for RePublic scholars, but for students throughout the Nashville community.

The center is named for Thomas H. Cato, who served as the Chief Information Officer of HCA Healthcare, and was a pioneer in the field of healthcare computer science and information technology. From humble beginnings in Mississippi, Mr. Cato believed that access to a robust computer science education early on in his academic and professional career forever changed the trajectory of his life. The center honors Mr. Cato and RePublic’s shared commitment to the idea that digital literacy is the key to dismantling historic barriers to equality in the South.

At the dedication, Hal Cato, Nashville civic leader and member of RePublic’s Board of Directors, commented on the monumental impact this center will have for the youth of Nashville.

"My father would have loved the fact that his name is attached to a center that does for students today what learning data processing in the ‘70’s did for him: Gives them the experience of creating, not just consuming; opens their minds to the fact that they can be an employer, not always an employee. And lets them see the myriad of ways these skills can change their lives, their families’ lives, and the world as they know it today."

The center will offer a number of opportunities for scholars in the greater-Nashville area to become immersed in the domains of computer science, robotics, and multimedia studies. It will offer coding classes and seminars, incubate robotics teams that will attend national and international competitions, and house a recording facility that will merge computer science with the arts. The center will be home to an “Innovation Hub,” where Nashville’s programmers and entrepreneurs will connect with young leaders interested in advancing projects and ventures with a local, national, and even global impact.

Princess Duncan, a founding 9th grade scholar at RePublic High School, spoke to why the Cato Center and computer science education are important to her:

"My dream is to become a biomedical engineer, start my own company, and create artificial organs and give x-rays to people in countries where they might not have access to them. I know computer science, the Cato Center, and RePublic High School are going to make that possible - because here, dreams are nurtured until they blossom into something extraordinary."

Princess Duncan, founding 9th grade scholar at RePublic High School, prepares to address the friends, families, civic leaders, and supporters that gathered for the dedication ceremony. 

Mayor Megan Barry spoke to Thomas Cato’s legacy, RePublic Schools’ leadership, and the importance of the Cato Center to the betterment of education in all public schools in Nashville:

"This computer science center, the first of its kind in the entire South, is going to be open to all Metro students...In this room will be the next Steve Jobs, or Ursula Burns, and all of you [scholars] will be successful because you will have this background and this opportunity."

The center was made possible because of nearly $500,000 in charitable donations from individuals and foundations throughout Nashville - including a $250,000 gift from HCA Healthcare. Contributions were made in lieu of flowers at Thomas Cato’s funeral last fall.

The launch of the Cato Center could not be more timely. Despite its relevance to every industry, computer science remains largely absent from most K-12 schools. Of the students who do have access to this content, very few are women or students of color.

An article published in EdWeek revealed that, in 2014, not a single African American or female student took the AP Computer Science exam in Mississippi. The picture in Tennessee was barely brighter: of the 271 students in the state who took the exam last spring, only 8% were black, 4% were Hispanic, and 14% were female.

RePublic is positioned to shatter these statistics.

Nearly 170 students at RePublic High School are slated to take the AP Computer Science exam in 2017, more than 90% of whom identify as students of color, and nearly half of whom are female. These trailblazers will change the makeup of computer science test-takers - and eventually our region’s tech workforce - entirely.

The RHS robotics team quickly and excitedly got to work in the newly opened space the afternoon of the event. 

RePublic High School scholar Evan Smalley best summarized the impact the Cato Center will have on the lives of the scholars and others who pass through its doors:

"My exposure to computer science has opened a whole world of opportunity for me. The instruction I have received at RePublic - and will now receive through the Cato Center - will give me a quality education in a field that will change my life. There are now no limits to what I get to be when I grow up."