Students get college- and career-ready, thanks to TEALS volunteers

Jim Eiche

Jim Eiche is a programmer and software consultant at Gig Werks, a SharePoint solutions provider. In his spare time, he also volunteers in a TEALS AP computer science class at Frederick Douglas Academy in New York. Eiche and other TEALS volunteers prepare students to take the advanced placement exam, which can earn them college credit; they also train a classroom teacher so he can teach the class on his own. TEALS, the industry-wide movement supported by Microsoft Philanthropies, relies on volunteers like Eiche who come from more than 200 tech companies. Together, they are creating self-sustaining computer science programs like this one across the United States.

Learn more about how to volunteer with TEALS here.

I’m a programmer and software consultant, not a teacher. So when I first started volunteering with TEALS, I was really scared! I worried I’d get to the front of the classroom and freeze, or not know an answer, or be embarrassed. After a few classes that fear goes away.

I’ve always wanted to teach programming to young people. Computer science skills are in high demand, yet there aren’t enough people graduating in the field to fill all the job openings. That’s why I chose to volunteer with TEALS: I really wanted to give back to help the programming community in the U.S. and my local community.

It is very cool to see students go from knowing nothing about computer science to understanding very complex concepts in the AP curriculum. They start writing programs based on Pokemon to coding an app, which they’ll do after the AP test.

We’re showing them this is not just a class, but how it’s part of a profession too. Mr. Bianchi, the classroom teacher, will sometimes pull me to the front of the class to solve a particularly difficult problem the kids are facing. I’ll work on it using the same concepts they’re learning. And once a month, I demo a project I’m doing at work. It shows them computer science we’re teaching isn’t just pie in sky theory. The skills they’re learning in class apply to real jobs—and real life.

Mr. Bianchi is also learning. After less than a year he’s already good—he teaches part of the class on his own with us volunteers there as support and to help answer questions. Training the teacher is one reason why TEALS works so well: He will go on to teach computer science even after volunteers have moved on.

We don’t sugar-coat it: Computer science is a hard subject. Programming comes with a lot of frustration. But we’re trying to teach tenacity and self reliance: pushing through to solve a problem even if they think it’s impossible. The moment students finally do solve something on their own is an incredibly rewarding moment—for them and for me. 

I expected that at this point in the internet age, more people would know how to program. But so many young people just don’t know where to start. I like introducing the next generation to computer science. With TEALS, more students are getting the opportunity to learn skills literally everyone will need to know.

In high school, I was lucky: I took AP computer science at a very well ranked school. I am proud to offer the same opportunity to students here in New York.

In the U.S. we don’t put enough emphasis on computer science in school. We need to introduce more people to programming at an earlier age. That’s why I like helping. That’s why I give back.

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