Not much gets me out of bed before dawn. Yet here I was, fully dressed, rolling down I-40 with my hazelnut coffee at 6 am sharp. Aaron and I were in Flagstaff, AZ, on our way to Little Singer Community School (LSCS) on the Navajo Reservation an hour southeast. After months of putting together our coding camp, our vision for the Lab would finally unfold.
Mr. Tom Tomas, LSCS’ 5th- and 6th-grade teacher, had invited us to facilitate our camp for his students. Tom also heads the STEM initiative at LSCS, aiming to bring more educational development to the school. Dr. Jones from Navajo Technical University had passed our information on to Tom, and when he heard about our work he wanted to connect with us. We responded with enthusiasm - and now, here we were!
I fell in love with the dusty roads, spread wide beneath the bright blue sky. Wild horses and donkeys trotted freely in the sunbaked desert. An abandoned bus station with I <3 Rez graffiti sat by the side of the road, cluing us to our soon arrival.
Tom met us at a Safeway in Winslow, near the school. It’s a remote area with no service or road signs, so he wanted to ensure we didn’t get lost! Once on site, I immediately noticed the gym and computer lab buildings. Both were circular and domed, like native hogan dwellings. It was one more visible reminder that we were actually here. Thoroughly pumped, Aaron and I made our way to Tom’s classroom to prepare for our presentation.
Fortunately, all staff (teachers, bus drivers, security guard, cooks) were available to attend, as school was out for National Navajo Code Talkers Day! This holiday celebrates the twenty-nine Native American coders who invaluably assisted the U.S. government during WWII. It felt so powerful to discuss coding on such an important day.
First, the staff spoke on the Code Talkers’ impact, and how they felt their work mirrored modern coding. Aaron and I piggybacked on that, sharing why we chose the name Lab 29. “Lab” refers to our passion for discovery and learning, while “29” represents the number of original Code Talkers. After we’d built some repertoire with the staff, we invited them to share their thoughts on future STEM education at the school. We tried our best to harvest all their comments in order to tailor our program further for their students.
Finally, we signed up the entire staff with Code Avengers accounts! We wanted to give them firsthand experience with the platform their students would be using in the upcoming days. None of the staff had coded before, and most of them hesitated, but the second they logged on, the room’s environment shifted. Energy and excitement surged as they
helped each other through the lessons, high-fiving and exclaiming “YES! We got it!” Aaron and I were thrilled watching them warm to the classes, a testament to Code Avengers’ exceptional learning platform.
We stayed late to meet with Tom and Dr. Ben Jones of NTU, whom we’d met in May (see this post). He was also the one who had mentioned us to Tom! We all discussed bringing Computer Science and STEM initiatives to Navajo Nation, the 27,000 square miles home to over 300,000 Navajo natives. We believe there is such a ripe opportunity for STEM in this community, and we are eager to make it happen!
Day one - check. Stay tuned for more about our trip!