Happy Birthday, CSTA Virginia! – Celebrating a Stronger Statewide CS Educator Network

2 August, 2023

Happy Birthday, CSTA Virginia! – Celebrating a Stronger Statewide CS Educator Network

CSTA Virginia Interview hosted by Kristin Hott, CodeVA Engagement Strategist

  • Arrykka Jackson – President, CSTA Virginia
  • Ciara Pervall- Eastern Region Chapter Support Coordinator, CSTA

Last month, we had the privilege of talking to Arrykka (Are-REE-ka) Jackson, the newly elected President of the statewide Computer Science Teachers Association chapter: CSTA Virginia, and to Ciara (See-AIR-ah) Pervall, CSTA’s Eastern Region Chapter Support Coordinator and former CSTA Tidewater President,, to talk about the recent consolidation of Virginia’s 8 regional CSTA chapters. We invited them to talk a bit more about educator engagement in the organization and chapter(s) and the reasons behind this new statewide collaborative consolidation.

Kristin: Hello Arrykka and Ciara, thank you so much for your time today and for your leadership in CSTA Virginia! Tell us more about the statewide chapter and how it came to be.

Arrykka: CSTA Virginia was born out of the regional chapters of CSTA like Tidewater, NOVA, Shenandoah, Sova, Central VA,Valley… that were launched as individual chapters with their own regional members. Virginia, educationally, is divided into 8 Superintendent regions and when chapters were started here, it was very much the idea to coincide the CSTA chapters with those educational regions designed by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). During the pandemic a lot of chapters were either founded, like CSTA Tidewater, or other existing chapters suffered, just due to all the pressures, all the things that happened. You know, this wasn’t unique to CSTA chapters, CS teachers felt it along with the rest of the educators. We saw things such as chapter membership decline, chapter engagement decline… and just general burn out, not having support.

CSTA corporate is our headquarters, at the end of the day, and because of a desire to support these individual chapters, chapter leaders thought it was important to bring Virginia something better. We, the CS teachers, and Virginia deserve the best, and so in order to provide the best we felt that it was better to come together, bring together resources, bring together people and have some regional representatives, people in those individual eight regions involved in leadership. We wanted to increase support for all the things that, before COVID, some of the chapters had in place originally.

Ciara and I were part of starting CSTA Tidewater and we were really just kicking it out and we started to run pre-pandemic time. I mean, our first big event was going to be in April, 2020, and everything shut down in March, so here we are planning for April and trying to get ready and it’s like “nope.” Little did we know that it was going to be a few years- this process of things being shut down and having to reorganize having to go online– which was a bonus for us being CS teachers because we’re tech savvy – but it was a strain as well.

Kristin: That’s a great way of talking about coming together. Do you know much about when the first Virginia chapter was formed or about CSTA’s beginnings in VA?

Ciara: I’ll be honest, I do not. CSTA was completely, you know, new to me. Everything that I know of in regards to computer science, my “roots,” are from CodeVA, so that’s literally how CSTA would have begun with me. And, not saying this in a bad way at all, but… I was “voluntold” to start the CSTA Tidewater chapter! (laughter) That’s how it happened. It has turned out to be a great thing, so there’s nothing wrong with that, but I was at one of the CodeVA summer PD opportunities, and I sat down beside Chris Dovi (CodeVA executive director) in the hallway, and he basically tasked me with starting the Tidewater chapter. I learned a valuable lesson that day, you know. (laughter)

CSTA Tidewater and I…I mean, we’ve had our challenges like Arrykka shared, but to me, it’s been great. My thing is, I’m big on community. Like, this is a great space (emphasized) for people who, you know, need the resources, need this support. and just want a community of supporters. You know, I actually don’t even teach CS classes. That’s not even under my umbrella of things to do for my job anymore, but it’s the community – that’s why I’m still here. I do not want to leave the community of people.

Kristin: Awesome! I think that’s such an important piece – the actual community- so thank you for mentioning that.

I know that not every region has representation currently, I wonder if you would like to make a call to action or an invitation for educators, who are reading, to step forward and get involved?

Ciara: I think we definitely need a call to action for it.

Kristin: Do you think the membership, as it is now with everyone “converted over” into the new state chapter, has been welcomed? Have you seen any initial excitement or any kind of confusion or maybe push back? How has the transition been so far?

Ciara: I’d say there’s been a mix. I know when the initial survey went out to all members there were more people that were for it, but there were a few that were a little apprehensive, saying well my region hasn’t done so well in really getting off the ground locally, so how could we possibly do as well in a state chapter? But kind of like you said at the beginning, you know, that strength in numbers, if we come together, you know, that everybody just collaborates on their skills and their understanding, we can work together. I honestly think it can be a great thing, like seriously– I think once we get off the ground, we’re still going through some preliminary stages…but once we really get off the ground, I really think this can be, we will be great.

I had the opportunity to go to ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) this year, and there was a lot of people that came by our booth from Virginia– more than I expected– and it was a mix of people who knew about CSTA, kind of like half-and-half. We had CSTA supporters and some that did not know, but all of them seem to be excited that we have this support, this community, this wealth of resources and some said, if “I’m not already a member let me join!” Some shared that though “they weren’t privy to the new changes in consolidation of the state chapter” they wanted to dive in. I thought that was pretty cool to actually see people and hear about their interest or curiosity.

Engagement, though, has been just a challenge, I think, for all CSTA chapters across-the-board. Engagement and membership is not where we want it to be, but people are kind of… (disengaged) you know, even though CSTA represents a community of support and resources. In the teacher’s shoes or perspective, it can appear to be just “one more thing to do”. So, that’s really where I think we struggle– attracting some representatives and leaders and things of that nature, because it’s completely voluntary and there are so many other demands on people’s time and attention..

Kristin: I know CodeVA wants to continue to be a connector to CSTA Virginia, and to encourage educators who are engaged with CS and already doing so much to support others in their schools and regions, to step into leadership roles. We can also encourage those just getting their feet wet in CS to consider membership and the benefits of accessing support and resources beyond what we offer.

Arrykka: That is really something at the heart of CSTA Virginia and CSTA as a whole, People who don’t necessarily feel like they have a CS teacher identity still have things to offer, and even more to gain. And within CSTA, I think, especially when we were just getting started, we really wanted to develop you as a CS teacher because, if you teach math, you are a CS teacher. You may not recognize the overlap of the computer science standards or computer science language with what you’re teaching, but in reality, every day that you teach patterns you are teaching CS. Every day you teach writing or teach “how to,” that’s an algorithm. CS integration in Virginia is really focused on K-8 and is supposed to be integrated into what teachers are already doing.

And so, just really being able to give people the language to communicate that “you are a CS teacher” is going to be one of the things that will help drive engagement.. I’m currently in school and I led a PD as part of one of my classes, where I taught elementary school teachers how to integrate CS into their literature lessons and things that they’re already doing throughout the K5 curriculum.

I think most teachers, probably the majority of teachers, don’t know what resources are out there. Even in my work to help give teachers some PD and help equip them to prepare these learners to be producers not just consumers of technology, I created my own standards crosswalk document because I didn’t even realize that it existed until halfway through completing my own. So, I think that it’s more about giving teachers a voice along with those tools. Then they’ll be able to find their role or have a CS identity themselves or within the organization, which I think is why diversity, equity, and inclusion is so important within CSTA. Because when you see yourself (represented), then you’re able to just add to that identity.

Ciara: Spot on! Spot on!

Kristin: Maybe that’s what we’re gonna call the article… “Spot on”! (group laughter)

Ciara: This (CSTA Virginia) is a place that is going to develop you.This is very much a “come on and let’s do it” atmosphere. Let’s do it and be afraid. Even if you say “I don’t know what my role is” or “I don’t know what I have to contribute or what I can bring to the table, but guess what, I’m here.” We want you to come on. Come one, come all, Kumbayah, Hakuna-Matata…all the things, just bring what you have. Don’t second-guess yourself. You do not have to be, or consider yourself to be, or have anyone else consider you to be an expert in CS. You belong because you are a Virginia educator.

Arrykka: Yes. Like Ciara said, that’s not even the heart it’s just do you have drive? Do you have passion? Do you want to learn? Are you teachable at this stage? And, you don’t even have to be an active educator to join. We have retirees. We have business professionals, community members. Whatever your role in CS or education, there’s a space for everyone. Computer Science isn’t going anywhere. We use it in our everyday lives, in our jobs, so let’s everyone tap in.

Ciara: There is space for everyone in CSTA Virginia. And do not feel as though you have to become a chapter representative or a leader. Like, this is literally a space for everyone, even if you want to sit, you know, in the top of the bleachers and mind your business, there’s a space for you, too. We do want people who are motivated to just bring what they have to the table. We’re gonna support you through it. This is not a “give you a title and leave you hanging” kind of situation. In CSTA, we support each other.

To become a member of CSTA Virginia, visit the chapter website: https://virginia.csteachers.org/ and create a profile. It’s free at the basic membership level, or you can upgrade to a CSTA+ level to access additional organizational and sponsor benefits alongside free professional learning opportunities at the national level. Visit the events calendar to find out what’s on deck across the state or in your area and/or become involved to help plan the next great thing!

Arryka Jackson, CSTA Virginia, Chapter President
Ciara Pervall, CSTA National, Eastern Region Membership Coordinator

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Arrykka or Ciara, or to the representative from your region. A complete list of chapter leadership is shared here.