May 18, 2024

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Built General Tough

Plum High teacher among newest crop of state certified computer science educators

Plum High School math teacher Tamar McPherson recently joined an elite group of educators dedicated to the future of technology-based learning.

She is one of 38 teachers in the state to become certified in computer science grades 7-12 through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The professional development opportunity was made possible through the state’s PAsmart initiative.

Created by Gov. Tom Wolf, PAsmart provides resources on educational training opportunities focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“PDE is committed to providing certification pathways for educators interested in attaining their computer science certification,” said Kendall Alexander, department spokesperson.

McPherson said she sought the certification to better educate young learners and grow Plum’s computer science program.

“It’s important,” she said. “With everything being digitized, everything being related to computers somehow, I think that it’s important that some kids get experience. They may not all be software engineers, but they can work in information technology or information science or cyber security. There are a lot of different fields that they can get into.”

Math was something that came easy to McPherson.

“The running joke when I was a little kid was, ‘Just call her ‘Doctor’ and get it over with,’” she said. “It was something they said when I was 8 (years old).”

McPherson graduated from Pittsburgh’s Allderdice High School in 1994 and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 1999.

She would go on to work for years as a engineer in research and development for a biomedical company that made materials for hip and knee implants before becoming a teacher.

High school Principal Joe Fishell said the district is lucky to have McPherson on its roster.

“Mrs. McPherson is an amazing teacher who has worked tirelessly for her students.” Fishell said. “She saw an opportunity to lead her department in this area and was confident that she could accomplish great things. What an inspiration to her students and colleagues. I extend my greatest congratulations to her.”

McPherson joined the district as a math teacher in 2004 and was moved to computer science in 2018.

She led an all-girls STEM camp that year and began teaching Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

“I was literally learning along with the kids,” McPherson said. “We’d watch videos together and we’d do stuff together.”

The district partnered with the University of Pittsburgh to offer computer science credits through the AP courses. Pitt has offered such opportunities to Plum students for years.

McPherson took an intermediate programming course over the summer to get more comfortable with her surroundings.

“Getting certified has been the pinnacle of this work for the last couple of years,” McPherson said. “I’m excited the most about being able to start incorporating the things I like to do in my classroom like hands-on activities. … I can provide a much richer experience for kids in the classroom besides, ‘OK, let’s do the next exercise.’ I can dig deeper into the content.”

She has a full slate of computer science courses heading into the school year including classes in intro to computer science, mobile apps and cyber security.

More than 200 students were enrolled in such classes last school year.

McPherson has a master’s degree in secondary education from Chatham University. She also taught marching band at Allderdice and Plum for about 10 years.

Her son, Zachary, is entering his senior year. His older brother, Martin, recently graduated. Both were in McPherson’s classes.

Educators interested in computer science certification can fine more information at pattan.net.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .