MOUSE Squad to the Rescue

By Susan Fisher and Doug DeFrees, members of the IBM Volunteer Outreach Council (IVOC)
Picked up from IBM’s Volunteer Outreach Council Site

When Doug DeFrees, Research Software Engineer at IBM Research-Almaden, became a MOUSE Squad volunteer at Los Arboles Elementary School and Sylvandale Middle School, both in San Jose’s Franklin-McKinley School District, he knew he had the skills to share his technical knowledge to help teach youngsters how to use, repair, and troubleshoot computers. There were unexpected rewards to come. “It’s a great feeling when students and teachers share with me the good effect that our MOUSE Squad has had on them,” says DeFrees, a father of two and an enthusiastic pilot. He and his wife have worked with children in various volunteer capacities for more than 20 years. “The positive feedback makes it all worthwhile,” says DeFrees, who feels that MOUSE Squad is a win-win for all involved – students, teachers, schools and volunteers.

Gary Waters, math and science teacher at Sylvandale, agrees with DeFrees. “MOUSE Squad has been operative at Sylvandale for only one year, but I can see an impact on the students who have participated that will go far beyond their years in middle school,” says Waters, who is the school’s MOUSE Squad Advisor. “The students have gained many new skills that will aid them in their future lives both professionally and socially. They have learned how to take on more responsibility and to communicate more effectively with adults. They have been inspired to learn more about technology, math and science.”

Leslie and Selene, 5th graders in the Los Arboles MOUSE Squad, told DeFrees about the time they took action to prevent a real showstopper. While waiting for the start of the fundraiser “Movie Night,” a glitch stopped the whole show and 150 kids were getting restless in the school cafeteria. The teacher in charge called for help from MOUSE Squad.
Fortunately, Leslie and Serene were working in the school lab helping with the evening class for parents. The two girls ran quickly to the cafeteria. A few minutes later after they initiated a reboot, the movie started and the whole room cheered. Selene said, “We felt like celebrities.” “Yeah,” Leslie agreed. “That was cool!” One might even say Oscarworthy,  Best Performance for Can-Do Spirit and Technical Skills by 5th Graders!

With MOUSE Squads generating effective results like these, no wonder Ira Dearing, an IBM retiree who worked for Storage Device Division and Software Group for 35 years and now runs her own successful clothing design business, was eager to volunteer and help set up a new MOUSE Squad group at East Palo Alto Boys and Girls Club. “I enjoy working with these young people and sharing the skills I’ve learned over my years with IBM,” says Dearing. “It’s a very positive experience to help students understand and successfully use technology as they develop leadership skills.”

What is a MOUSE Squad?
So what are MOUSE Squads all about? MOUSE Squad of California (MSCA) is the Student Tech Leadership program of Aspiranet, a nonprofit human services agency providing school-based and after school programs, community technology centers and children and family services throughout California. MOUSE Squad, helps schools and other groups teach kids how computers and software work. MOUSE Squad members then provide tech support to end users who need more help than the “help key” provides. The kids learn technical skills they can use in real life, not only immediately but as a springboard to technical careers. They learn the value of math and science, provide a great service to their organizations by keeping systems up and running, and are recognized as subject matter experts, not only by their peers but by teachers, administrators, and most importantly, their families.

“Today there are more than 80 MOUSE Squad programs in California, almost half of them in Silicon Valley,” comments Program Director Jan Half. More than 1,600 students are enrolled and the number grows every month. Learn more from Jan about MOUSE Squads by viewing a video and view the full list of MOUSE Squad schools and organizations.

MOUSE Squads are up and running in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools and at organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs in East Palo Alto where Dearing volunteers and in San Jose where Merilee Germano, retired from Storage and Technology Group after 34 years with IBM, is a MOUSE Squad volunteer. “Working with the MOUSE Squad is a great way to give back some of the skills I learned at IBM,” says Germano. “It’s wonderful to see the enthusiasm for learning and sharing knowledge that takes place among the kids in my group. The kids are very engaged and excited to learn and then to apply what they have learned.”

Dustin Chan, Levin Technology Director at Boys and Girls Club of Silicon Valley in San Jose, says that the MOUSE Squad curriculum, which MSCA licenses in partnership with MOUSE (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools & Education), a New York City-based nonprofit organization, has taken his program to a new level. “The program results can be seen in our everyday operations, where the MOUSE Squad youth have become the leaders in the computer lab,” comments Chan. “Being a non-profit, we cannot afford many luxuries. Training staff to run labs is out of the question. However, MOUSE Squad has made it possible for us to train our youth to step up to that challenge. Our computers are outdated and run into many issues. But the youth are always eager to find a fix. I have made this program like a job and every member of the squad has set goals to pursue an education for a career in the computer industry. We appreciate IBM’s investment in our future, our youth, through MOUSE Squad.”

MOUSE Squads: a winning combination for students, teachers, volunteers, and technology through IBM funding
To get a MOUSE Squad in place takes a little time from a willing volunteer working with an enthusiastic teacher or staff member, and a bit of funding. That’s where the IBM Volunteer Outreach Council (IVOC) plays a role. IVOC, a group of IBM employees and retirees that includes DeFrees and Dearing in its membership, reviews grant proposals received from IBM volunteers working at local schools and nonprofit organizations in Silicon Valley and ecommends the proposals to IBM for funding.

“Supporting MOUSE Squads is an important initiative for IBM,” says Jennifer Hernandez, Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs manager for Silicon Valley and also an IVOC member. “The Silicon Valley Community Action Council (SVCAC) as well as IVOC feels that this organization mirrors IBM’s values in training young people in technical and leadership skills.” Over the past three years, IBM has contributed more than $14,000 to the growth of MOUSE Squads at several schools and nonprofit organizations in Silicon Valley. In addition, the Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs organization provided a $15,000 sponsorship to help extend the MOUSE Squad program across California. The payback comes in many ways: kids learn the value of helping others by sharing their technical skills; they provide great value to schools without the budget for in-house tech support and “just in time” troubleshooting; they have a new path to higher education and career opportunities.

“Best of all,” says Los Arboles principal Carla Haakma, “are the rewards we get when children receive that little extra help from outside the community that encourages them to succeed. Opportunities like the ones IBM and MOUSE Squad have helped them to experience enable our dream of building upon our school”s focus on Technology and Communication in Society.” At a time when Los Arboles is facing budget reductions in both personnel and programs, Haakma adds that “contributions such as this one (from IBM IVOC) make it possible for us to continue to support technology programs that benefit our students, staff and community.”

There are many schools in Silicon Valley that could benefit from having a MOUSE Squad on board or need assistance with a Squad already in place. If you are interested in becoming a MOUSE Squad volunteer and would like to know how to get started at a school in your area, contact Kathleen Lynn, MSCA Corporate Connections/Volunteer Coordinator, for more information.

The IBM Volunteer Outreach Council (IVOC) invites you to learn how you can become involved in the council’s activities. Visit the IVOC website for more information and to find out how to submit a grant proposal for an organization at which you currently volunteer. Also see all the organizations that have received IBM grants through IVOC that were facilitated by IBM volunteers.

Learn more about the organizations mentioned in this article at their websites:

For more information concerning this article, please contact Doug DeFrees.

Read the article on IBM’s site >

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