A global approach to education

PV's Teacher of the Year applies computer science to real-life issues

Ellie Kim, Managing Editor

When Nancy Ricca was asked to teach computer science at Pascack Valley 20 years ago, she had no prior knowledge of the topic. Ricca said she was “really only a week ahead of the kids” when she started teaching the class.

“I was teaching myself [computer programming] while I was teaching them,” said Ricca, a math and computer science teacher.

After she started teaching computer science, Ricca decided to get her master’s degree in math with a concentration in computer science at Montclair State University. Since then, she has been teaching for 21 years and has recently been recognized as PV’s Teacher of the Year and recipient of the Governor’s Educator of the Year award. 

Evie Higgins
Computer science and math teacher Nancy Ricca was awarded Governor’s Educator of the Year. She has been teaching at PV for 20 years.

“She’s a wonderful role model and she’s always coming up with really good ideas and ways to get all of her students involved,” mathematics department supervisor Mark Russo said. 

Ricca is particularly dedicated to engaging and empowering females outside of the classroom. She facilitates the Girls Who Code club, which aims to close the gender gap in the STEM field.

“It’s an amazing club where females get together and do a little bit of research on other women who are in [science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics] related fields,” Ricca said. “It creates a nice network of girls who share similar interests.”

Beyond educating students about computer science, Ricca said she is dedicated to teaching students how to use computer science to solve “societal issues that exist around the globe.” In order to do so, she implements service learning into her AP computer science class. 

“She came up with [the idea to implement service learning] and it was entirely her initiative,” Russo said. “She did all the leg work, got involved, and did the research.”

On Feb. 2, Ricca flew to Seattle, Washington, after she was accepted to attend a summit for AP service-learning teachers which was organized by the College Board and the WE organization.  WE includes WE Schools, which consists of programs that aim “to empower [teachers and students] with the skills, knowledge, and motivation to bring positive change,” according to the WE website

The three-day AP with WE Service Teacher Summit was paid for by the College Board and took place at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. 

“I got to meet great teachers who teach AP in all different classes,” Ricca said. “Engaging in conversations with teachers from around the world was just an amazing experience. We sat, we collaborated, and we learned from each other.”

Ricca first heard about service-learning when she received an email from the College Board three years ago if any teachers were interested in incorporating it into their classrooms. 

Contributed by Nancy Ricca
The AP with WE Service Teacher Summit was held at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. It was attended by over 50 teachers.

“I wanted to make computer science education more meaningful to my students and I thought that this was a great opportunity,” Ricca said.

All students involved in service-learning must complete a process of four steps every year: investigate and learn, action plan, take action, and report and celebrate. Ricca engages students in discussions about global issues and helps them raise funds that go towards a chosen cause for the year. Students who complete the service-learning requirements get their accomplishments reported on their ETS score reports.

“My hopes are that more and more people will incorporate service-learning into their curriculum,” Ricca said. “[Incorporating service learning] was very easy to do and the benefits from service learning for our students are amazing.”

Contributed by Nancy Ricca
AP subject teachers from across the country were invited to attend the AP and WE Service Teacher Summit. It encouraged collaboration and discussion among attendees.

The focus of the first year of incorporating service-learning into the AP computer science course was access to education. On the local level, students researched the lack of access to computer science education, and globally, students worked with the Unlock Foundation. The organization was founded by PV alum Scott Karrel and aims to provide funds to rural African schools. Ricca’s class raised funds through hosting a game day where students had a chance to present the programs they had developed in class.

“We got a picture from one of the teachers [in Africa] where the money had gone directly towards the markers that the children were using,” Ricca said. “It was very meaningful and my students were very touched and their reflections were amazing.”

Last year, Ricca and her students raised money for the One Spirit club and TEEEM. The class hosts an annual game day with all funds going towards the cause for the year.

“You don’t always have to go somewhere and build a trench to get access to water,” Ricca said. “It’s the little pieces that can help others. Service-learning helped my students open their eyes to the world and the issues that exist, and it opened my eyes as well.”