December 11, 2017

Giving black and brown students the opportunity to participate in Seattle’s tech industry

Seattle nonprofit Technology Access Foundation is transforming STEM education by partnering with public school educators

Students learn hands-on in the Engineering Lab at TAF Academy’s newest location, TAF@Saghalie in Federal Way, Washington.

After hundreds of years of change, controversy, and competition, public schools still play a significant role in educating our citizenry with 90 percent of all students attending public schools across the nation. And still millions of black, brown, and low-income families struggle to find high-quality educational environments that eliminate race-based disparity in academic achievement, are safe, promote the highest level of student learning, and have teachers that represent their culture.

When I was a child, my mom and I experienced the same things our public school families are experiencing today—always struggling to get the right opportunities, not being seen as a learner, trying to find teachers who understood me, etc. Even after persevering, completing college with a degree in Computer Science, and entering the tech field, there was still that sense of having to fight to get what I needed to be successful while at the same time having to justify my existence as a black woman.

The Technology Access Foundation (TAF) was started in 1996 with the mission to give black and brown students the opportunity to participate in the booming tech industry by offering an educational option that allowed students to explore their talents and learn from industry professionals who wanted to help guide them to prosperous futures. For 10 years, TAF successfully offered national award-winning after-school and summer technology programs to nearly 3,000 black, brown, and low-income K-12 students in the Seattle area, yielding impressive results, including a 98 percent college entrance rate, and paid internships for 350 students at more than 60 companies. Today we are proud to see TAF college graduates employed as engineers, doctors, scientists, cyber security specialists, nonprofit professionals, entrepreneurs, social media leaders and teachers.

This was all great, but it just didn’t feel like we were doing enough. We needed to reach more students and help change their public school experience. We decided to take on the challenge of creating a public school model where students would learn to succeed so they can position themselves to create the world they envision.

Our first step was to identify a school district that was willing to take this leap of faith with us, embrace our model, and offer it in an underserved community where most of the students would be black, brown, and low-income.

In 2008, the TAF Academy (TAFA), a 6th-12th grade neighborhood STEM school opened its doors in the Federal Way Public School district. We created TAFA as a place where students could find their voice, experience leadership, have a passion for learning, build a professional network, and “try out” careers and interests before they graduate high school. Instead of academically tracking students, TAFA has one curriculum and makes sure every student gets as close to achieving these standards as they can.

We believe that when you build something for the community, with mostly people from the community, you build something special.

Every single adult at TAFA has to be on board and pledge to develop their craft, collaborate, and let students lead. We built a corporate partnership alliance to help shape our students’ learning environment by exposing them to STEM career opportunities, and engaging teachers in current industry practices so they can create relevant learning experiences.

Our results tell the story: 95 percent on-time graduation rate, with 100 percent college acceptance rate. For six consecutive years, TAFA was in the top 5 percent of schools in the state of Washington.

When we began thinking about replicating TAFA, we made an even bolder decision. We set a 20-year goal to partner with more school districts to train 500 teachers, transform 60 public schools, and bring 2,400 more teachers of color into Washington state schools. We are well on our way to achieving this goal.

We believe that when you build something for the community, with mostly people from the community, you build something special. You build a legacy. Our legacy is evident by the quality of people who work at TAF, the number of former TAF staffers who have continued to build on what they learned at TAF with organizations elsewhere, and by the number of alum who give back to their communities. They are carrying and sowing the seeds of change for all of us, but most of all, for our children.

Trish Millines Dziko

Co-founder of Technology Access Foundation

Trish Millines Dziko is the co-founder and executive director of the Technology Access Foundation. Trish is responsible for leading the strategic direction of TAF, creating partnerships with various industry leaders, and managing TAF’s amazing team of directors. She has a degree in computer science from Monmouth University.