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Microsoft YouthSpark Star Jeremy Moore

Read how access to computer science education changed this Kentuckian's life.

YouthSpark Star Jeremy Moore Watch video

Computer Science Education Sparks Potential in Rural Youth

Jeremy Moore and Isaac Wilson are only six years apart in age, but their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. One grew up in Silicon Valley, the son of an electrical engineer and an artist. His path to success came with little struggle. The other was born into a working-class family in Beattyville, a rural Kentucky town where jobs—let alone jobs in the tech field—are hard to come by.

"To see that light go on in my son, to see him get excited about something, I can’t tell you how happy I was. It’s just helped him all the way around. The sky’s the limit for him now."

Tammy Moore, Jeremy’s mom

Jeremy realized his interest in programming through his love of video games. “I want to be a software engineer. I've always liked to create stuff, that's why I want to make games.”

Jeremy realized his interest in programming through his love of video games. “I want to be a software engineer. I've always liked to create stuff, that's why I want to make games.”

Through the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, Isaac is using his technical knowledge as a Microsoft software developer to teach computer science to students like Jeremy in school districts that couldn’t otherwise afford to offer such courses.

Providing access to computer education is just one goal of Microsoft YouthSpark, a company-wide initiative to create opportunities for 300 million young people worldwide over three years. By building on new and existing partnerships and focusing on creating greater opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship, the initiative seeks to help young people imagine and realize their full potential.

Jeremy takes the bus to school in Beattyville, a town of about 1,200 in central Kentucky. “If Jeremy hadn’t found technology, he’d probably be working at the local Dairy Queen,” said Tammy Moore, Jeremy’s mother.

Jeremy takes the bus to school in Beattyville, a town of about 1,300 in central Kentucky. “If Jeremy hadn’t found technology, he’d probably be working at the local Dairy Queen,” said Tammy, Jeremy’s mom."

That message really resonated with Isaac. He volunteered to teach the class remotely on top of his full-time job at Microsoft, spending five hours a week teaching and many more weekend hours on preparation. Teaching computer skills to students who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to learn these skills appealed to Isaac as a way to give back. Although TEALS first began working only with school districts in Washington State, the Microsoft program has expanded to a total of eight states in 37 schools across the country, reaching approximately 1,500 students in the 2013-2014 academic year. The class offered remotely to Beattyville was a pilot program.

Before TEALS, Jeremy’s grades weren’t a priority and college wasn’t in the picture. His mom, Tammy Moore, said she saw a complete turnaround in her son after he started the class. Jeremy went from dreading school to rushing to third period for his TEALS class. With technical knowhow, guidance, and encouragement from Isaac, Jeremy graduated, enrolled in a community technical college, and plans to transfer to a four-year university where he can study computer science.

“To see that light go on in my son, to see him get excited about something, I can’t tell you how happy I was,” Tammy said. “It’s just helped him all the way around. The sky’s the limit for him now.”

Jeremy studies his computer programming books between classes. “Jeremy does not have a whole lot of interest in different things,” Tammy Moore said. “We did not know he had real (computer) skills until Microsoft came to our school.”

Jeremy’s parents chat in the family’s kitchen. “Jeremy is just like his dad,” his mom shares. “They both love to know how things work. In our time, it was nuts and bolts. In Jeremy’s day, its computers, it’s how things tick.”

To understand how much it meant for Jeremy’s family to see him pursue a career in computer science, you need to know a few things about Beattyville. It’s a quiet town of just 2 square miles with plenty of dirt roads. Its population is about 1,300—the same as it was in 1910. Coal production once made up a significant portion of the economy but has suffered in recent years. Unemployment is higher than 12 percent.

Jobs are scarce, according to Lee County Executive Judge Steve Mays, with county contracting jobs and jobs in the school system making up the majority of work. About half of the kids who graduate from Lee County High School go on to a four-year college. Even so, a college degree doesn’t guarantee a job, and many who come back don’t find work easily.

Despite the down economy, Jeremy likes Beattyville and wants to settle there after college. He likes its rural nature, and he knows college will give him valuable skills that he can apply to improve his community. Maybe, he said, that means getting a job with the school district bringing the outside world to other students. Maybe it means starting his own IT support business to help local shop owners maintain a presence on the Internet in the 21st century.

“There’s not much work here at all, but...where he can program, businesses that are here, he would probably have pretty much the whole market,” his mother, Tammy, said. “There aren’t people here who can do that.”

Tammy works as an in-school suspension supervisor. She sees a lot of potential for the TEALS program because she knows firsthand what it did for her son.

“Some of those kids are really into computers. I’m hoping it will turn some of them around, too,” she said. “I’m very thankful to Microsoft and the people at our school who brought the program here. It changed Jeremy’s life.”

After his high school graduation, Jeremy traveled to Seattle and visited Microsoft headquarters and other tech companies with his TEALS classmates. It was his first time out of Kentucky. Highlights included visiting Microsoft, the Gates Foundation, and Facebook. The coolest thing, Jeremy said, was getting the chance to chat with programmers about their work.

Jeremy is spending his last summer before college hanging out with friends and using skills he learned in class to build a computer game, though he’s keeping details secret until the finished product is ready.

In the fall, Jeremy will take online courses at Hazard Community Technical College in Kentucky. He plans to transfer after he completes his general education requirements. He would be the first one in his family to graduate from college.

Jeremy said he’s nervous about college, but it’s the good, exciting kind of nervous. “It feels pretty good to know my parents are proud, especially when it’s for doing something I like to do,” Jeremy said. “The class sparked something in me and helped me realize my full potential. Everybody’s counting on me to do something now.”

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