As part of our celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the Microsoft employee giving campaign which takes place in October, we’re sharing some stories of how Microsoft employees are giving back and what volunteering or giving means to them. Recently, we featured Erin and her work with Global Give Back Circle. Now, we’d like you to meet Peli de Halleux and Chris Mitchell, and the program they volunteer for, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALs).
TEALs is an employee volunteer program that aims to address the issue of how to ensure students have access to computer science in high school. TEALS recruits, mentors, and places technology professionals who are passionate about digital literacy and computer science education into high school classes as part-time teachers. Microsoft employees volunteer in a team teaching model in which the school district is unable to meet their students' computer science needs on its own. Started by Kevin Wang, the ultimate goal of TEALS is to provide every school that needs one with a computer science teacher. The program started with an introductory computer science course and next year, with the addition of an advanced computer science course, students who enroll will receive college credit. TEALS has expanded from humble beginnings at just three schools to 13 partner schools in 4 school districts throughout Washington State, reaching more than 800 students. de Halleux and Mitchell both teach at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle, Wash.
de Halleux, a senior research software development engineer in Microsoft Research, joined Microsoft in October 2004. He thinks utilizing Microsoft employees’ core competency of technology expertise can greatly benefit the community. He’s lives near Rainier Beach and wanted to give back to his community.
“We’re with students five hours a week. It’s amazing to experience being a high school teacher while working for Microsoft,” said de Halleux. “TEALs has created a system where we can make a change in the classroom by doing something natural to our job. In other volunteering opportunities, you might not be used at your full potential.”
Chris Mitchell, a principal software design engineer for Microsoft Exchange Server, has been with the company 10 years this September. His personal volunteer efforts have always centered on education issues, including serving on a committee for the Pacific Science Center and involvement in the local school districts. When he learned of TEALs, he jumped at the opportunity to get classroom experience.
“There’s a lot of talk about what’s going wrong in education,” said Mitchell. “This was a good way for people at Microsoft to use their expertise to make a difference for the better.”
TEALs volunteers Chris Mitchell and Peli de Halleux teach introductory computer science with teacher Michael Braun at Rainier Beach High School.
Peli and Chris originally signed up to volunteer two times a week at Rainier Beach High School to provide students instruction in an introduction to web design course. When they began to see the impact they could have on the students, they both quickly decided to volunteer more frequently. Working with teacher Michael Braun, de Halleux and Mitchell began to teach high school students five days a week at 8:00 a.m.
“I thought we’d split up the assignment,” said Mitchell. “But it’s an engaging thing, so we made the decision to be there every day. It wasn’t like you felt like you had to be there.”
Mitchell said their initial problem was attracting students to attend school every day and to ensure they were ready, willing and able to learn. He said one student in the course was working 25 hours or more a week at McDonald’s while trying to keep up with his school work.
“We had a rough first semester. We were teaching web design and there were a number of kids who didn’t want to be there,” said Mitchell. “The students all used cell phones in the classroom, much to our chagrin, and it was a constant distraction problem.”
Mitchell and de Halleux came back with a unique plan for the second semester and school administrators were thrilled.
They asked, why not provide students with phones to use in the classroom and learn computer programming skills by developing apps? de Halleux had been working on TouchDevelop, a Windows Phone app that allows users to create apps and games directly on the phone. Thanks to a grant from Microsoft Research Connections to the Seattle Public School District, the school was able to equip each student with Windows Phones and TouchDevelop. That’s when class enrollment nearly doubled.
After introducing phones to the classroom, the course increased its enrollment from 16 students in the first semester to 30 students in the second semester. They also introduced 8th graders from South Shore Middle School to encourage them to build an interest in computer science and the high school as well. The impact of the program on students was easily seen.
“At mid semester we had a student join us who barely spoke English,” said de Halleux. “He gave up that first semester, but he came back the second semester and said it changed his life. He wants to make computer science his career and will join our advanced course next year.”
And the positive impact was made not only on the students—both volunteers feel they received more than they gave through TEALs.
“I definitely feel more connected with my neighborhood, and feel better about me. It’s a great feeling, and hard to describe,” de Halleux said.
Want to learn more? If you are a technology professional and would like to join TEALs, or if you're a school looking to add computer science to your course offerings, please contact Kevin Wang for more information at Kevin@TEALSK12.org.
This is fantastic! Would love to add this program in Los Angeles as a compliment to what Sam Stokes is doing with me at Crenshaw high school.