Rex Academy: Strengthening the T in STEM

By Anna Lardinois

Startup Storyteller

Sandhya Padala didn’t intend to create a solution for the lack of computer science education in K-12 schools. But she did it.

What started as a kitchen table project to teach a few kids programming skills has developed into Rex Academy, an online education platform delivering computer science education to users across the nation.

In 2015, her son was eager to create his own video game, so he needed to learn how to write computer code. His suburban public elementary school did not offer that curriculum and she could not find any after-school programs that provided the services she was looking for. With no other options, Padala, an engineer with a master’s degree in computer science, decided to teach her son herself.

When her son’s friends found out what he was learning, they were eager to join the lessons. Before long, Padala’s son and daughter, along with a handful of their classmates, were learning the basics of computer science in her home.

She soon discovered there were lots of kids who are eager to learn hands-on technology skills.

Padala’s in-home sessions quickly grew into a registered business and moved to formal classes inside a storefront location. As the classes became more popular, area private schools took notice and hired the growing business to teach workshops and lead summer camps.

Before long, the demand for classes grew beyond the feasibility of leading face to face instruction at each institution interested in providing computer science education. Padala says, “learning computer science is as critical as learning math and reading for this generation.”

The company is working to become the “one-stop solution for computer science education.” To address this need, she and her team began creating online curriculum “removing all roadblocks schools have.”

A key roadblock Padala observed was a lack of computer science teachers in schools, noting that fewer than 0.05% of K-12 teachers have a computer science background. She understands why few people with the necessary skills opt for a career in teaching. The Rex Academy CEO recalls hiring contractors in her previous corporate role with the skills needed to effectively teach computer science at rates between $150-$350 per hour. These rates are significantly higher than the pay rates of public educators.

 Additionally, she notes technology is a “vast and constantly changing field,” making it difficult for K-12 computer science teachers to keep their skills current.

The Rex Academy program is designed to be student-led but provides live support for teachers if a student gets stuck or needs additional help. Rex Academy also provides an online collaboration space for teachers to share techniques, lesson plans and other useful tips for delivering computer science curriculum.

Rex Academy has created solutions that not only address lack of trained staff, but also barriers presented by lack of access to the needed equipment. The browser-based program protects school servers from savvy student hackers and other unauthorized access. It also allows students access tools not available on their school-supplied computer. Padala knows her program works. Not only did her own children successfully pass the AP computer science exam while in middle school, Rex Academy boasts a 100% passing rate on the exam for their students.

As a Wisconsin-based company, Rex Academy is working for change in Wisconsin public schools. They have gotten five computer science teachers certified through the state DPI and are introducing CSforALL to education leaders. The program creates scaffolding to introduce and build computer science education into K-12 schools. Additionally, the CEO hopes the state follows the example set by Arkansas and makes computer science a required part of public school curriculum.

Today, Rex Academy reports they are “the #1 browser-based computer science and cybersecurity learning curriculum” in the nation. With high interest from students, and the explosion of STEM-based jobs on the horizon, this company is providing an in-demand product to an enthusiastic market.

To learn more about Rex Academy, click here

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