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Microsoft’s TEALS Brings Computer Science to Southeast Classrooms

by Muriel Vega

Former high school teacher Kevin Wang saw a major gap in his computer science classroom. So, in 2009, during his spare time while working as a software engineer at Microsoft, he envisioned a new way to teach students computer science — TEALS. Soon after, he volunteered to teach AP Computer Science, and was soon overrun with requests from nearby schools. He quickly reached out to colleagues and friends at Microsoft for help. Five years later, Wang was named one of Fortune’s “Heroes of the 500” for his work with TEALS. This year, he brings the award-winning computer science education program to the Southeast and Metro Atlanta.

TEALS teams up professionals with classroom educators to help children develop computer science skills around the country. In 2011, Microsoft took the program under its wing and it became part of its YouthSpark initiative, which aims to increase accessibility to computer science education. TEALS is a part of the Microsoft Philanthropies organization.

Tracey Wilson, the TEALS Regional Manager for the Southeast, talks about reaching students, how Atlanta can help the program grow and TEALS’ success stories.

How does TEALS operate?

TEALS helps high schools teach computer science by providing trained volunteers — industry professionals in CS — to partner with a classroom teacher and work as a team to deliver CS education to students who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn CS in their school.

Over two years, the classroom teacher gradually takes over the responsibilities of teaching the course without volunteer support. The team-teaching and volunteer system of TEALS creates a strong ripple effect: it empowers teachers who can multiply the impact by providing computer science education to hundreds more students over the years.

How are you solving this CS education issue?

Around 75% of US high schools don’t teach computer science, despite the growing demand for talent in computing-related jobs across every industry. Most schools that want to teach computer science can’t find a teacher with the right background. TEALS provides a way for high schools to build and grow a sustainable computer science program.


What inspired TEALS to bring technology education to high schools in the Southeast? Why is this important?

The Southeast has a need for more qualified computer science teachers. As a former CS teacher here in Georgia, I have seen firsthand the shortage of teachers and therefore the shortage classes offered to our students. We have the raw talent in our schools, but they do not have access to the classes and opportunities that those classes open up to them.

How does Atlanta weave into your story?

We’re one of the largest population centers in the South, and we have a large array of companies that employ software engineers. This combination is perfect for the TEALS model of finding industry volunteers to help support local schools. We’re hoping Atlanta will not only be able to support a strong program in the urban and suburban areas, but extra volunteers from the Atlanta metro area will also be able to support rural schools in Georgia through our remote instruction program.

TEALS classroom

How has it been received so far?

Nationally we have been very well received, we are currently in 161 schools across 17 states and Washington, D.C.

So far the interest here in the Southeast from the schools and teachers has been excellent. We are new to the Southeast, but we have built a solid base for our pilot year. We will be working with approximately 10 schools in Atlanta, five schools in Birmingham, 3 schools in Florida, and 3 schools in South Carolina.

teals-teacher2Do you have any particular success stories?

Over the past 7 years, TEALS has served around 17,500 students directly. 6,000 of those students took AP Computer Science! Through our program, nearly 1,400 volunteers have donated 0.4 million hours of their time to helping schools teach computer science (at tech-industry-standard consulting rates, that’s worth almost $100 million!).

There are so many amazing stories, from underprivileged students in inner-cities who are now studying at Top 5 CS programs, to a boy from Eastern Kentucky who was the first in his county’s memory to attend an Ivy League college (where he is majoring in computer science). But ultimately, the most exciting part of our program is that teachers who are able to continue teaching CS even after we leave.

What’s the market and industry impact, for you and for the students?

Science and technology are critical drivers of today’s global innovation economy. More and more companies–across all industry sectors–are seeking people with computer science (CS) and computer engineering skills.

In the U.S., there will be 1.4 million CS-related jobs by 2020, yet U.S. college graduates are expected to fill less than a third of those jobs. For American youth, this means an unfortunate mismatch between education and opportunity that we must solve by bringing together professionals from across the CS industry.

By increasing access to CS for all youth as early as possible, we will help them prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow and give them the opportunity to become creators of technology and the world’s future innovators.


Are you partnering with other organizations?

We work closely with other groups that are working towards the same goal. We are currently partnering with Code.org, UC Berkeley, and the University of Washington around curriculum. We frequently partners with other CS Education programs on events and advocacy.

Are you hiring?

We have some open positions listed on our site.

All photos courtesy of TEALS. Pictured is one of TEALS classes at BASIS Chandler in Chandler, AZ. The classroom teacher is Mr. Joe Bostaph and the TEALS volunteers are Mark Dancho and Zhijian Hua.

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