Bronx teacher wins $10K Innovation in Computer Science Education Award for launching program

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Students at the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science take advantage of a robust computer science program thanks to Tyree Alexander, who started the program from scratch.
Photo courtesy amsbronx.org

Tyree Alexander did not have a computer science background, but launched the program at his school while teaching history because he recognized students did not grasp the opportunities that existed in that field — only 50% of all public high schools in the country offer computer science.

Alexander, who is an instructional team leader and peer collaborative coach at Urban Assembly School for Applied Math & Science (AMS), located at 1595 Bathgate Ave., was tabbed in December as one of just five recipients of the inaugural Cognizant Innovation in Computer Science Education Award and given a $10,000 cash prize.

The awards were established to identify both educators and leaders who have demonstrated measurable impact expanding access to and advocating for PK-12 computer science education.

“I was in disbelief a little bit,” the 31-year-old Alexander told the Bronx Times. “I don’t think I’ve ever won anything.”

Alexander, of Brooklyn, has been teaching for 10 years. Although his mom, Annette James, worked in child care, he never pictured himself being in the field.

He originally wanted to be a lawyer, but then got interested in advertising and marketing. He went to Morehouse College in Atlanta and obtained a degree in business administration. From there, Alexander received job offers and figured he would stay down south.

“My plan was to not come back to New York,” he said.

Teacher Tyree Alexander was a recipient of the inaugural Cognizant Innovation in Computer Science Education Award. Photo courtesy Tyree Alexander

But a family situation took place and he began to look for work on the East Coast so he would be closer to home. In 2012, he accepted a job offer from Teachers for America (TFA), which trains teachers and works in partnership with local schools.

While TFA members are required to teach for two years in a low-income community, Alexander never thought he would do it for longer than that.

“Teaching was not on my radar at all,” he said. “A two-year plan turned into a 10-year-plus commitment.”

Alexander began as a history teacher, but soon noticed AMS didn’t offer many tech classes; he felt compelled to learn more about computer science and educate students about it.

So, Alexander took it upon himself and attended computer science workshops on the weekends and courses in the summer.

“I was learning as I was teaching,” he said.

Three years into his career, he launched computer science as an elective and the program has been a huge success. Knowing that many of his students come from families who struggle to make ends meet, he wanted to teach them something that could help them develop careers.

According to Alexander, most of the students didn’t understand what computer science was. He has taught them about digital editing, block-based coding and ultimately exposed them to a world that many didn’t know existed.

“The truth is, that I wished I had studied computer science in college, but fear of failure and uncertainty about my abilities prevented me from ever exploring the option,” Alexander said. “I viewed my new elective as an opportunity to learn a new set of skills alongside my students and tackle an issue that permeated multiple areas of my school community.”

He continues to mentor many of his former students, especially those who have gone onto careers in computer science. Among them include someone who co-taught his class and another who teaches college-level courses in computer science with a background in cybersecurity.

“The study of computer science is important to me because ensuring that my students have access to the field can help dismantle decades of inequity by empowering them to become active developers and not just passive recipients,” he said. “Because it is quickly becoming essential in virtually every industry, being introduced to the field in a public school setting puts students on a pathway to enjoy a greater sense of financial security, purpose and choice.”

Although Alexander does not live in the Bronx, it has become his second home and is glad to make a difference in so many lives.

“I love the Bronx,” he said. “It’s an under celebrated portion of NYC. “I was ignorant about the beauty of the Bronx.”

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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