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Cultivating Coders next step: train the trainer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This summer, a new train-the-trainer coding boot camp will skill up a battalion of high school teachers to introduce more computer education into their classrooms.

Albuquerque startup Cultivating Coders, which already offers intensive summer workshops for under-served youth to learn about web and software development, will launch a six-week program in June to train up to a dozen teachers to teach coding and computer science in their own classrooms when they return to school.

The company originally launched in 2015 to offer mobile, computer-programming boot camps for adults in targeted rural and urban areas. But in 2016, it formed a nonprofit arm to also provide free training for under-served high school youth. To date, that’s allowed 76 New Mexico students to attend eight-week camps, including three last summer in Albuquerque, Shiprock and EspaƱola.

The camps aim to inspire and guide students into potential, high-paying career opportunities, while also encouraging them to form after-school computer clubs to reach more of their peers.

But that’s been difficult, in part because few teachers have enough training to support student activities. That inspired the new train-the-trainer initiative, said Cultivating Coders founder and CEO Charles Ashley III.

“We want to get the schools themselves more involved with what we’re teaching kids,” Ashley said. “We can reach a lot more students if teachers buy into what we’re doing.”

The first Albuquerque pilot program will launch June 4. If successful, it could spread to more places next year.

“We want to provide enough training for teachers to feel confident about introducing it themselves in their classrooms,” Ashley said. “We want them to feel comfortable enough to at least expose kids to computer science to engage and inspire them.”

Teachers selected for the boot camps will participate for free. Each one will receive a stipend, plus a free laptop.

“In return, at the end of the camp, we’ll ask each teacher to sign a promissory note to take what they’ve learned and pass it onto their students,” Ashley said.

The program costs about $5,000 per teacher, covered in part by a grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory. The AFRL helped sponsor last summer’s student boot camp in Albuquerque, along with assistance from other foundations and organizations.

AFRL’s support reflects a new emphasis on computer science and coding in its outreach programs to inspire youth in science, technology, engineering and math, said AFRL Technology Engagement Office Director Matthew Fetrow.

“If we increase teacher capacity, it means more opportunities for students,” Fetrow said. “Computer science is a fundamental part of everything in STEM today, and it affects everyone’s day-to-day lives.”

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