This past week, 6 students, the Superintendent and Chairman of the School Board from Lee County High School came to Seattle to visit the campus that brought Introduction to Computer Science to their district. The students were given the opportunity to job shadow industry professionals in the Computer Technology fields. They also benefitted from guided tours of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, University of Washington Computer Science department and the Microsoft Envisioning Center, which aims to illustrate what technology could be capable of doing in the 5 – 10 year timeframe. In their free time, they explored the city and worked on their programming homework since they would continue to participate in the class, in-person, on the Microsoft Campus. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these students and the school. Aside from touring a piece of the Evergreen State, they learned a lot and took home memories to last a lifetime.
Everyone who contributed to making this possible deserves a HUGE shout-out because without their support this program and the job shadowing opportunity could not have happened. The importance cannot be overly stressed therefore, I’m calling out the thanks, first, then concluding with my write-up of their visit.
Thank you: Microsoft!!! (Give, Youthspark, TEALs, Big Compute in Azure team and management), University of Washington Computer Science Department, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook, Lee County High School, Lee County Technology Center, Lee County School Board, and a big thanks to the Industry Professional TEALs teacher and the Teaching Assistant (Isaac and Nolan). I want a group hug! Well, that’s how thrilled I am and proud of the success of all of our combined efforts to help these and future students of Lee County, Ky.
TEALS is a program committed to bringing Computer Science to schools across the Nation by providing an Industry Professional to teach the course all the while training an in-service teacher to pick up the curriculum to carry it forward after the 2 year contract with Microsoft has expired. Lee County High School, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Beattyville, Ky, was fortunate to have a nomination and win the bid for the first of two Remote teaching pilots. Most of the programs have been centered around Seattle with Industry Professionals going on-site to teach, but in this and the second case, the Industry Professional would teach from Seattle leveraging Microsoft’s Lync conferencing technology. The students would participate from their classroom, watching the instructor on a live video screen with webcams and individual sessions to get personal attention on programming assignments. As a pilot program, recruiting in a school of about 300 total students and having a match requirement meant that student enrollment was limited to those curious about the course with some level of interest in computers. In other words, the students didn’t know what they were really getting into and we didn’t know what we were going to get. Fortunately, we were lucky to get the Academic best of the Sophomore and Senior class as well as a surprise enrollment from a student whom we learned later that without this class, would not have understood his potential for a career in computers. See his Youthspark video, here.
On the weekend of their arrival, I was unable to join them and participate in some of their exploration and discovery of Seattle. When I did arrive on Sunday, however, they were already starting the week’s programming assignments, thanks to their Instructor and Teaching Assistant (Issac and Nolan). Teaching remotely has the downside of creating distance that can disconnect the student’s actual level of performance and understanding with that of the Teacher’s. With this in mind, it was imperative that they spend as much time as they could with the Instructor and TA not just doing programming assignments and lectures, but touring the city and getting to know one another on a little more of a personal level. In my 10+ years of remote work experience, this rapport is critical and should not be underestimated for anyone who works remotely. While this would turn out to be the most time everyone would have together, it would also be the last time everyone would gather in-person. The program has been running the full school year and the end is nearing, Mid-May, it’s estimated at this point.
The weather in Seattle did not disappoint. It poured heavily most of the weekend and let up slightly during the week to afford a glimpse of the mountain-scape. I was most disappointed that they would leave without really knowing what the surroundings looked like. Other than that, they didn’t seem to mind the rain. They toured the Pike Place Market, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ate Indian Food, skipped rocks on the beach of Lake Washington, visited Snoqualmie Falls, but most of all, they spent a lot of time with Isaac and Nolan both in class and out of class, job shadowing to learn what computer programmers do all day. Since I was the one organizing the trip, it was important that they experience something not Microsoft, as well, and for that I give a huge shout-out to Facebook for stepping up and making it possible for them to spend an afternoon in the Facebook downtown office learning how to write a Facebook application and getting another view into the life of a computer programmer.
Now, I’m not a programmer anymore, but I do work in the Engineering team building products and have a huge role to play in how the products shape and what quality bar they meet. Therefore, to give the students another view into Software development, they also spent time with me. We sat in two critical meetings and illustrated how we collaborate using the same technology that is bringing Computer Science skills to them. One team meeting looked across our multiple deliverables and leveraged our China satellite in Shanghai for input and accountability. Though they didn’t understand most of what we were discussing, they got the idea that computer development can be a global initiative and the skills they were learning for remote learning could be applied to remote working. One day, I hope our society is more developed and mature to support more remote work opportunities so kids like these don’t have to leave their hometowns to make a decent living.
I’m really proud of these kids and the district for making this trip possible for them. Microsoft matches volunteer time with cash and every hour Isaac, Nolan and I have spent helping the class or organizing this trip has brought money to the district. We were originally only going to bring one student out West for this experience, but the school decided (as a one-time thing) to use these funds to send the entire class of 6. Some of these kids have never flown before, let alone ever been out of their county. I know this trip will be a memorable experience for everyone involved and I only wish good things for all going forward. My single focus with the district has been to make this program sustainable so 3 years from now, CS is still a subject taught in this school and job shadowing opportunities are still available. I think we are nearly there, but there is always more work to do, especially if this model will scale to other Rural schools.
As a side note, you should know that most of the STEM and TEALs focus has been on urban schools. This program just broke that mold and is making history, but for it to continue and reach other schools, we can’t do it alone. If you want to contribute and help a student in your area, reach out to me so I can share how you can get involved.
Thanks for reading!