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TEALS transforms computer science education in Bellevue

From left, Bellevue High School students Derrick Cheah and Jackson Brown, TEALS volunteer Peli de Halleux, and Bellevue High School teacher Justin Nipp confer while on a field trip to Microsoft.  - COURTESY PHOTO, Microsoft
From left, Bellevue High School students Derrick Cheah and Jackson Brown, TEALS volunteer Peli de Halleux, and Bellevue High School teacher Justin Nipp confer while on a field trip to Microsoft.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO, Microsoft

By Julie Benson

Special to the Bellevue Reporter

Future computer scientists are getting a strong start in Bellevue’s public schools. Through Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, part of the company’s YouthSpark initiative, high school students have the opportunity to learn computer science from top technology professionals who teach one class period in the morning before heading off to their day jobs.

Not all TEALS volunteers are Microsoft employees – high-tech workers from Google, Amazon, and other companies also are teaching computer science in Bellevue schools.

After going through an intensive three-month training program, TEALS volunteers partner with an in-class teacher to share their computer science expertise and real world perspective with students. The classroom teachers help TEALS volunteers hone their instructional abilities, while the TEALS volunteers help build classroom teachers’ capacity to teach computer science.

TEALS operated at Bellevue and Newport high schools last year, and will expand to Interlake High School this fall. Since beginning in 2010, TEALS has grown exponentially. In the 2012-13 year, the program reached more than 1,500 high school students in 37 schools.

Studies show that many of the fastest growing jobs are computer-related. Less than 3 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science, despite its status as one of the highest paying undergraduate degrees. Companies struggle to find qualified candidates to fill positions.

David Broman, a software developer at Microsoft, worked as a teaching assistant in the AP Computer Science course at Bellevue High School last year. This year he’ll be teaching the same class, alongside a TEALS co-teacher, two TEALS teaching assistants, and Bellevue High School teacher Justin Nipp.

“These kids have so much motivation,” says Broman. “Once you give them the tools and show them what’s possible, they can do incredible things. I really enjoy seeing how computer science education opens their minds and enables them to get creative in a whole new way.”

Advanced Placement test scores from Bellevue High School show just how successful the program has been – 92 percent of students in the AP Computer Science class passed the exam and obtained AP credit. Even more impressive, their average score was 4.36 out of 5, significantly above the national average.

Through its Employee Giving Program, Microsoft matches employee volunteer time and makes a donation to the Bellevue Schools Foundation for each employee’s hours. In 2012-13, TEALS volunteers worked more than 1,174 hours and the donation totaled more than $19,000. The foundation puts those dollars back into computer science education, providing students with essential study materials and opportunities to put their programming skills to work.

“Exposing students to computer science early on gives them the opportunity to consider it as a career path and take the steps necessary to prepare for further study in college,” Broman said. “Even students who don’t aspire to work in tech fields will need to understand how computers work. Computers are everywhere and they’re here to stay.”

Julie Benson is communications manager of the Bellevue Schools Foundation.

Learn more

  • To learn more about volunteering with TEALS, visit tealsk12.org or contact Kevin Wang at kevin@tealsk12.org
  • Microsoft YouthSpark is a global, companywide initiative that aims to create opportunities for 300 million youth over the next three years by connecting them with greater opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. Learn more at microsoft.com/youthspark.
  • By 2018, there will be 1.5 million computer science related jobs available in America, and only 29 percent of those jobs are on track to be fulfilled by U.S. graduates.
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