Saturday, May 25, 2024

Empowering the Next Generation: Schools' Focus on AI and Cybersecurity Skills

Sponsored by Microsoft

Posted

Technology isn’t just an asset but a necessity in education as schools across the region prepare students for the future. The Microsoft Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program is helping schools to make this happen. 

The Microsoft TEALS program is offered as a philanthropic initiative at no cost to schools. The program was first introduced at Quincy High School in 2017, and has since grown to be a part of 17 regional high schools across the region. TEALS pairs teachers with industry professionals who volunteer as mentors. These mentors, who are practicing computer scientists and experts in their fields, bring real-world experience into the classroom. They help students make meaningful connections between theoretical concepts and practical applications, thereby enriching the learning experience. TEALS mentors also bring authentic professional connections to hundreds of students across the region each year. 

TEALS operates a unique model where professional volunteers teach the curriculum for an entire year while the classroom teachers play a supportive role. This partnership allows for a seamless transfer of knowledge and skills, with the teachers gradually taking over the reins in the second year. The result is a sustainable, robust teaching capacity within the schools, ensuring that the program's benefits have a lasting impact.

The program started with computer science and IT courses, but has recently added developmental skills applied to artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity as part of an ongoing commitment to equipping students with the expertise required for the technological challenges of tomorrow. AI and cybersecurity skills are a fundamental need for all students, because the implications of these technologies extend well beyond the tech industry. Whether it's navigating the complexities of healthcare systems, securing financial transactions, or ensuring the integrity of social services, the knowledge and skills imparted by the TEALS program are becoming increasingly relevant. It's about preparing students to thrive in a world where technology intersects with every facet of their lives.

Eastmont High School is preparing to add cybersecurity classes for students in 2025. Eastmont Teacher Shelley Charlton has been working with the TEALS program for many years and she describes one of the biggest benefits to TEALS partnership is the way it supports schools to prepare for current technology demands in real time. “By working with TEALS I am able to provide my students with skills and knowledge they need to succeed after high school.” Charlton is also empowered by the teacher development model to embrace learning, “I love being the "oldest student" in my classroom and learning alongside my students because skills students need today did not exist when I was going to college.” 

The TEALS program's success lies in its collaborative model, bringing together industry experts and educators to provide a comprehensive learning experience. This synergy between the classroom and the tech industry serves as a powerful catalyst for innovation and growth, inspiring students to explore the vast potential of AI and cybersecurity.

Nora Medina, one of the first Quincy High School students to complete the TEALS computer science course, visited the high school in April to speak with current students. Nora shared that her technology skills are giving her the opportunity to surpass her family income just a year after graduation, and will give her the means to return and provide for her family in the years to come. 

Nora shared, "Living in a rural town and being a first generation student, I didn’t know of any software engineers but through the TEALS program I was able to meet software engineers at top companies, as well as, find an amazing mentor who supported me during the TEALS program, and still to this day.” Medina added, “Without TEALS, I don’t think I would have envisioned myself working as an engineer in technology and allowed me to see my dreams were possible."  

As we look to the future, the role of programs like TEALS becomes ever more impactful.Through initiatives like these, schools are not just teaching; they are transforming education to create a world where every student is empowered with the knowledge to build vibrant futures here in North Central Washington. NCW Tech Alliance and the North Central Educational Services District will be hosting a panel of TEALS professional mentors to highlight the model and their efforts at the Cyber Meetup on May 1st at noon. The event is open to the public, but prior registration is required. Register: https://ncwtech.info/TEALS-Cyber

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