Story and photos by Roberto Taboada, CCSD Public Relations
The Central Consolidated School District hosted a community conversation on computer science this week with the leadership of the Navajo Nation, Teach for America New Mexico and Cultivating Coders. The conversation, which also included Shiprock High School students and staff, provided an update on last summer’s exciting coding boot camp, as well as a discussion on economic development in New Mexico.
A unique opportunity became available to nine Shiprock High School students last summer: an intensive coding boot camp, conducted by Cultivating Coders, an Albuquerque-based technology company that delivers condensed web-development classes. The coding boot camp, sponsored by Teach for America, a non-profit group that works alongside schools to prepare students for future careers, was offered at no cost to the students.
The camp was intensive for the students, as it required an immersion of eight hours a day, five days a week, for eight weeks straight. Once finished, the students learned the basic language that makes computer software, apps, and websites possible.
One of the main goals of the camp is to educate local talent, retain it, and eliminate the costs that all too often become insurmountable barriers for students (like attending classes that are only offered far away or are too expensive). If successful, the camps would bring more New Mexicans into the workforce.
Shiprock High School’s Coding Club, Russell Begaye (President of the Navajo Nation, center), and Dr. Colleen W. Bowman (Superintendent of Central Schools).
Nate Morrison, Director of Teach for America New Mexico, said he had more than a hundred conversations with local communities, including the one he had with the Cultivating Coders president, Charles Ashley III.
Ashley told the group that he noticed a common trend while working on coding camps in New Mexico: the camps were overwhelmingly white and male. When he thought of camps for native students and women, he thought that those “had to already exist.” They didn’t. This is how a coding boot camp, unique in nature and vision, occurred in Shiprock.
“You are the first class like this in the nation. And, I’ve mentioned you twice at the White House,” said Ashley to the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the coding club that participated in a round circle discussion with the Navajo Nation president, Russell Begaye, the director of economic development for the Navajo Nation, Robert Joe, and superintendent of Central Schools, Dr. Colleen W. Bowman.
The results are promising and being noticed.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that the Navajo Nation graduates of the program have begun constructing websites for WSI, a Toronto-based firm that projects that this year camp graduates will begin work on contracts that pay $25 to $30 an hour. Also, the participation by dozens of Native American students in the Shiprock program have garnered national attention, earning Cultivating Coders invitations to present at the White House’s “Generation Indigenous” conference last August.
(Left to right) Nate Morrison (Director of Teach for America New Mexico), Russell Begaye (President of the Navajo Nation), Charles Ashley III (President/Founder of Cultivating Coders), Abigail Cooksey (Shiprock High School science teacher), and John Tohtsoni Jr. (Principal of Shiprock High School).
A Whale in Space
While discussing the camp, you could feel the passion of the students in the air. Learning to code, learning a new language and putting it to good use, is what they had been looking for.
"What motivated us," said Alan Taliman, "was the opportunity to learn about the production of web pages and the language used to build them".
Amber Henderson told the story of how she was interested in going to a computer coding program in New York, but couldn’t. Not long after that, she was approached with the opportunity to attend the coding boot camp at her school.
Veronica Holiday described her learning experience as an “awesome opportunity.”
The enthusiasm for the student work was visibly shared by Principal John Tohtsoni Jr., Assistant Principal Jeff Sagor, and science teacher Abigail Cooksey, especially when she showed a videogame created by Holiday, a whale in space evading asteroids, a funny idea that is the fruit of fewer than six months of learning to code and flexing creativity.
Bridging the gap
The Navajo Nation leadership visited the chemistry class of Temair Shorty, a science teacher in the Teach For America program and a graduate of Shiprock High School. And their message to the sophomore class was simple, become interested in a career in science now.
Dr. Bowman echoed that sentiment and also urged the students to make sure they kept their focus on giving back, not just earning a living.
“Don’t forget that you are Diné (The Navajo people), and it makes you unique. Make sure that you work on eliminating the obstacles older people in our communities face with new developments in technology,” Bowman added, emphasizing the need to bridge the gap between the Navajo language and culture, and the language of the future; the coding that is the DNA of all the things we use today, from online banking to the apps that connect us to the rest of the world.
What’s next for the district?
Following this week’s conversation on computer science classes, Dr. Bowman mentioned that the district is exploring the creation of a coding academy at the high schools (with college credits offered).
The coding academy is said to be part of an ambitious agenda that looks to create a culinary incubator in Newcomb, career academies in Kirtland, Shiprock, and Newcomb, and opportunities for all the high schools to share best practices.
For more on the coding program, and the phenomenal work of Shiprock High School’s John Tohtsoni Jr. (Shiprock High School principal), Jeff Sagor (Shiprock High School assistant principal), Abigail Cooksey (science teacher), and Eric Cheever (College readiness coordinator), view:
For more information on Cultivating Coders and Teach For America New Mexico, visit:
With reports from The Albuquerque Journal.
Robinson-Avila, Kevin (2016, September 19). Cultivating Coders gains traction locally, nationally. Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved from https://www.abqjournal.com.
Robinson-Avila, Kevin (2016, October 28). Digital marketing giant to contract Navajo coders. Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved from https://www.abqjournal.com.