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Mecklenburg County tapped for AP computer science grant

SoVaNow.com / May 03, 2017


Mecklenburg County Public Schools learned Monday that it is the newest recipient of a Microsoft TEALS AP Computer Science grant. Mecklenburg becomes the first school division in Southside Virginia to receive this award, and only the 16th in the Commonwealth.

TEALS, which stands for Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, is a Microsoft initiative that places high-tech professionals as mentors/part-time teachers in high schools. Their mission is to get students hooked on computer science so they can go on to pursue careers in the field.

Nearly 150,000 computing jobs will open each year through 2020, according to the National Association for Education Statistics, yet fewer than 40,000 American students received bachelor’s degrees in computer science each year. It is also one of the highest-paying bachelor degrees. The average starting salary for a computer science college graduate is upwards of $65,000.

Technology companies have complained for years about a dearth of technical talent, which they tried to solve by lobbying Congress for looser immigration rules to accommodate more foreign engineers. But that does not solve the more immediate problem, the lack of qualified computer science teachers that can prepare students in the United States.

TEALS takes a different approach, helping high schools build and grow sustainable computer science programs through partnerships between classroom teachers and tech industry volunteers. They work as a team to deliver computer science education to students who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn it in their school.

The program, was founded in 2009 by former high school computer science teacher and software engineer Kevin Wang and is supported by Microsoft Philanthropies.

Mecklenburg County’s TEALS program will first be offered to juniors at Bluestone High School beginning this fall.

It has two tracks, explained school superintendent Paul Nichols. “The first track is for those who choose to pursue cyber security, hardware support, and computer application programs through the credentialing options we have directly with business and industry and with the community college and higher education center. These credentials open vitally important doors to jobs at the local data centers and entry level technician jobs throughout the nation.”

“The second is for those students who wish to learn advanced computer coding language that will open doors for jobs writing software. This requires a strong foundation in Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science in high school that will lead to advanced degrees in computer science at university.”

Nichols said part of what makes this program so exciting is that it connects to technologies most students use every day. A mentor at a school in California helped his class design a simple game that could be played on cellphones, and another had students create programs that performed simple functions, like playing a random song when the phones were shaken.

Angie Kellett, who heads the county’s Economic Development Office, sees TEALS as an opportunity to entice new high-tech companies to the area. The county will be readying a workforce that technology companies seek, she believes, which will make the area more attractive to companies looking to relocate.

The program partners the students with mentors who will provide instruction and support. These mentors can be computer scientists currently working for advanced technology firms, retirees from the industry, or persons with solid foundational knowledge of computer science who are willing to donate time with a computer science class.

Nichols said he is hoping to attract, as mentors, a number of local retirees, much like those who work with Bluestone High School’s First robotics team.

Microsoft supports this program from the perspective that high schools cannot afford to pay the mentors enough money to leave their six figure salaries at their job to become high school computer science teachers, Nichols explained while noting also that their expertise, which they pass on to the students, is critical to the success of the program.

Amanda Bowen will head this new program for the division. Nichols said she possesses the appropriate license to teach Computer Science, holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, and has experience working with distance education classes. Nichols said his experience at VASS (Virginia Advanced Study Strategies) taught him that persons with advanced business degrees are best suited to implementing computer science programs.

“I am excited about taking on this opportunity with the county,” said Bowen. Bluestone principal Pauline Keeton said, “this is a great opportunity for the students.”

Nichols said he chose to begin TEALS at Bluestone because the school has had the robotics class. Therefore, more students are prepared to immediately pursue the program. “We will make this available to students at Park View as we solidify the requirements of the process.”

The process involves an application and acceptance into the program.

As part of the TEALS program, volunteers from the computer science or software engineering fields are needed to participate in the program. Along with the help of TEALS program implementation team, Mecklenburg County Public Schools will be actively recruiting, training, mentoring and placing volunteers who have a passion for computer science. These computer science experts will participate in a team teaching style format alongside Mrs. Bowen.

If you or someone you know works or has worked in the computer science or software engineering field and would be willing to volunteer time towards participating in this exciting educational opportunity for our students and community, please contact Gary Cifers, CTE Coordinator at 434-738- 6111, ext. 1031 or via e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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