Birmingham-area programmers, find out how to give back through the Microsoft TEALS Program

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the Microsoft TEALS Program
“Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes. They Teach.” Photo via Microsoft TEALS’ Facebook page

Programmers in Birmingham, you need to know about the Microsoft TEALS Program. I spoke with three people in Hoover who love this program and the difference it makes to high school students. Find out more about the Microsoft TEALS Program or sign up for an informational webinar. Ready to jump in? Complete your application today.

But first, a little about the Microsoft TEALS Program

TEALS, which stands for Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, is a Microsoft Philanthropies program. The goal is to “connect classroom teachers with tech-industry volunteers to create sustainable Computer Science programs.” 

Volunteers teach students and help high school teachers learn to teach independently over time. TEALS will be supporting 25 Alabama schools in the upcoming school year, 22 of which are in the Greater Birmingham area. If commute time is a concern, you can volunteer remotely at 15 of the Alabama schools. You’ll find a complete list of all the schools partnering with the TEALS Program in the TEALS Volunteer Application.

2020-21 will be the 5th year that TEALS has been in Alabama.

We spoke to three people directly at Hoover’s Riverchase Career Conection Center (RC3) to find out more about the Microsoft TEALS Program. 

Meet three people behind the Microsoft TEALS Program at Hoover’s Riverchase Career Connection Center (RC3)

Pam McClendon, Riverchase Career Connection Center (RC3)

Pam McClendon with the Microsoft TEALS Program
Pam McClendon of Riverchase Career Connection Center. Photo via Pam McClendon

Pam McClendon serves as both a Career and Technical Education Cyber Innovation Teacher at RC3 and coordinator of the Microsoft TEALS Program. When we spoke, she explained how while a four-year university education has traditionally been the goal for educators in Hoover and other places, the changing job market has caused the school system to expand their offerings. 

“Employers are looking to fill a huge skilled labor gap—there are hundreds of well-paying jobs in Alabama with no one equipped to fill them. RC3’s goal is to train students via collaboration between educators and skilled industry professionals to fulfill the demand for skilled workers. 

This vision still includes a pathway to higher education should students choose to enhance their training but we also embrace the idea that some students need to enter the workforce right away.”

Blake Helms, Volunteer

Blake Helms is a volunteer with the Microsoft TEALS Program
Blake Helms demonstrating a PB&J project with students at Jackson-Olin High School. Photo via Blake Helms

I’m a Software Development Manager for EBSCO Industries. I’ve been at EBSCO for 16 years and I’ve loved every minute of it! 

David Lormor, Volunteer

David Lormor is a volunteer with the Microsoft TEALS Program
David and his wife out on the town in Birmingham. Photo via David Lormor

I’m currently the CTO at Wyndy. We’re a startup focused on connecting vetted service providers to local opportunities – we got our start in childcare, but have also recently expanded into dental staffing as well. 

Bham Now: How did you get involved with the Riverchase Career Connection Center?

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Blake: For my first two years in TEALS, I was at Jackson-Olin High-school and had a bunch of great students. This year Amber Pope, the TEALS Regional Manager, asked me to consider coming to RC3 to help get the program off the ground. 

Although I hated to leave Jackson-Olin, I’ve really enjoyed teaching at RC3. The staff is extremely passionate about teaching and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find another educational institution that has done more to ensure the success of their students.

David: I got connected to RC3 via TEALS—in the past, I’d volunteered at Wenonah High School and Corner High School (virtually), but my family lives in Hoover and I love the mission behind the new Career Center so I asked Amber if I could be placed there when the opportunity came up this year.

Bham Now: How did you get involved with the Microsoft TEALS Program?

volunteer with the Microsoft TEALS Program
Graphic via Microsoft TEALS’ Facebook page

Blake: I’m a co-founder of the Birmingham .NET Meetup and Amber asked to have a few minutes before one of our meetings to recruit for TEALS. After she explained the program, I knew I wanted to be a part. 

I’ve had a lot of incredible opportunities and a lot of people who have invested in me to help me get to where I am today. I look at what I’ve accomplished during my career and so much of it would not be possible without a handful of awesome people taking time to coach me and encourage me. The least I can do is to give back and invest in others to give them opportunities like I had.

David: I found out about TEALS through BASE, a local software developer community that I help organize here in town. They reached out to see if we could help source volunteers. In addition to spreading the word, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved myself.

Want to volunteer with Microsoft TEALS? Apply now

Bham Now: Tell me a bit about your role with the Microsoft TEALS Program

Blake: We generally teach the lesson in the morning and Mrs. McClendon teaches it in the afternoon using some of the techniques we’ve used. 

It normally starts the night before with reviewing the lesson plan and textbook chapter. We use this time to figure out how to teach it. This can often be difficult since even though we might intuitively know some concepts, teaching them is a different story. When teaching a concept I like to incorporate “war stories” to explain why we do something in a particular way. 

We also can help anticipate some of the mistakes students might make or brick walls they might hit. 

David: This is my first year working with Blake, and he’s been fantastic. We’ve both been with TEALS since its first year in Birmingham, and we’re also both organizers of local software developer communities. 

As TEALS volunteers, we work with local teachers like Pam to implement computer science curriculum—teaching the class (and teacher) CS fundamentals, providing insight into what it’s like working as a professional software developer and sharing resources for additional learning opportunities. 

Bham Now: What kind of impact has the program made on students in this first year?

Pam: The TEALS program has had a phenomenal impact this year. Most of the students that took this course had no prior programming experience and now have adequate programming skills. 

I remember a first-year student’s first week when he questioned if he had made the right choice—he felt he might have bitten off more than he could chew. By December, he was one of my strongest students and the program helped him make the decision to major in Computer Science at UAB next Fall. 

His mother confided in me that she saw a change in him. She was concerned that he was too lackadaisical, but she started to see him working from home on programming projects. 

It has truly been an interchange of encouragement. The kids and I gain invaluable knowledge from the volunteers. In exchange, I see the light in their eyes when they see the impact they’re having on students. 

The volunteers’ perspective

Blake: I believe they will look back at it as a positive experience. I’ve seen several students come out of their shells and participate more. 

I hope that in a few years I can hopefully hire some of them at EBSCO or help them start their career somewhere else. My ultimate goal is to see them succeed.

David: The first year is always the hardest. Helping to implement this program in RC3s first year has had its challenges. It took a month before we got textbooks. Obviously COVID-19 has been a big challenge this year! 

Fortunately, our volunteer team is fantastic, and we were able to overcome these challenges and deliver an insightful experience for students. In addition to learning the fundamentals of CS and Java, they’ve gotten a peek into what software development looks like “in the real world.”

Blake had the last word for anyone who may be considering volunteering with the Microsoft TEALS Program:

I really cannot say enough positive things about TEALS. It has not only allowed me to hopefully have a small impact on some students’ lives but it’s helped me be a better communicator and programmer.

No matter what field you’re in, if you want to take the next step in your career, you need to find a way to mentor up and comers. Thankfully for programmers, we have TEALS.”

Learn more about the Microsoft TEALS Program or register for an informational webinar

Ready to jump in? Complete your application today.

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Sharron Swain
Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference
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