Damien Willis – Published 6/11 in the Las Cruces SUN NEWS
In a computer classroom in Milton Hall on the campus of New Mexico State University, Jen England is teaching young girls that there’s a place for them in the world of technology.
In the Girlhood Remixed Technology Camp, girls of middle-school age learn about video game and app development, Photoshop, blogging, podcasting and digital filmmaking. On Friday morning, as the final day of camp was getting underway, England confessed that the girls had also, over the course of the week, developed a minor obsession with an online video game called Slither.io — which bears an uncanny resemblance to the nineties video game, Snake.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of camps like this, especially at this age,” England said. “We’re talking about 11 to 14-year-olds, that key time when they begin to develop the belief that they aren’t good at math and science, or they aren’t good at technology—when they form those ideas that they can or can’t. This is a very conscious intervention. The more support we have for camps like this, the better.”
The camp, now in its fourth year, began under the direction of Jen Almjeld, who has since left the university. England took over the reins, and the focus of the camp shifted a little toward game design and development, she said.
“We look at video game design, female avatars in games, female game developers and the fact that such a huge percentage of them leave before they’re even in the middle of their career,” England said. “That kind of ties in with the other things that we’ve been doing, talking about empowerment and the roles of women in different types of technology, workforce positions and things like that.”
The camp helps inform the girls of jobs that are available to them, but also the sorts of issues that women face in those jobs, England said. This year, thanks to some funding from the National Writing Project, the Borderlands Writing Project and a 2015 Learning Innovators Challenge grant, the camp is free for all of the 17 girls attending this year — and they’re each being given a $50 stipend for participating.
“It’s been a really awesome experience,” said Anice Madrid, 14, who will be a freshman at Gadsden High School in the fall. “I never really understood how to use Photoshop, and they taught me the basics of it.”
Anice also had a chance to produce and record a podcast.
“I worked in a group, and our podcast was basically about how Pop has spread out into other genres of music — like country and rap — and the influence that it has today,” she said. “If anybody was thinking about Girlhood Remixed, I’d tell them to go for it, because it has been a really awesome experience. You get to learn not just about woman empowerment, but also about technology.”
Natalie Dominguez, 14, is home-schooled. She said the camp has been jam-packed with interesting information, and that she has been able to develop some new skills.
“We learned about editing podcasts and making a website,” Natalie said. “We’ve talked about video game covers, and how there are no girls on most of them.”
Natalie said her favorite part of Girlhood Remixed has been learning to blog.
“That was really fun,” Natalie said. “It was fun to edit, and put in our own quotes and stuff. All of our blogs were about empowerment, and empowering other women.”
Natalie said she would encourage other girls to sign up for Girlhood Remixed.
“It’s really fun, and you get to learn a lot about computers and empowerment,”
A camp for the Hearing-impaired
Across campus in the James B. Delameter Activities Center, students between the ages of five and 14 played with dogs from the Therapaws program at the Sunrise Lions Camp for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children. This is the 15th year of the free camp.
“Usually this is how we end our camp, with some kind of low-key activity,” said camp director Concha Dunwell. “And the kids really look forward to these guys.”
Throughout the week, camp-goers who are deaf and hearing-impaired have the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities.
“NMSU has helped out a lot,” Dunwell said. “The women’s soccer team has come over and put on a little training camp for the kids. We had the archery program come out and set up the targets out back to teach the kids archery. Every day, we take the kids swimming, and we did therapeutic horseback riding. We also had a zumba instructor come and do zumba with the kids.”
The camp is also open to siblings of deaf children and the children of deaf parents. This year, 34 children signed up for the camp.
“As the director, I enjoy seeing the kids interact with each other,” Dunwell said. “A lot of the kids in the deaf and hard of hearing community don’t get to interact with each other very often. Most of the deaf children go to the same elementary school, then the same middle school, then the same high school. But at camp, we have a variety of ages, and they get to interact more with each other. They can hang out at the cafeteria and chat — just sign away.”
Roger Marr, a member of Sunrise Lions Club, said he gets great joy from helping put the camp on each year.
“When you see these kids here, swimming and climbing the rock wall, it’s really quite inspiring. Because these kids just don’t have that opportunity most of the time,” Marr said. “So we get a lot of personal satisfaction out of it, as well.”
Marr said that it has also been rewarding to see some of the deaf and hearing-impaired students who grew up attending the camp beginning to come back and help as volunteers.
Sophia Martinez, 11, attends Camino Real Middle School.
“My favorite part of the camp has been swimming,” Sophia Martinez said through an interpreter. “It has been a lot of fun. I also enjoyed the horse riding, because I love horses, and it was fun seeing the other kids riding.”
Elijah Arenibas, 11, said playing soccer was his favorite part. Elijah said he plays on a Las Cruces soccer team.
“I also like swimming, climbing the wall, riding a horse and the archery,” Elijah said.
“Oh! And dancing,” Sophia interjected. “The zumba.”
Sophia said she loves to dance, explaining that she can feel the beat of the music.
At Doña Ana Community College, a week-long class in app development wrapped up Friday — part of DACC’s Kids Kollege offerings during the summer. The Community Education program is offering about 30 week-long courses geared toward children. Most of the courses cost about $100 to $150.
“This is the second year of App Attack,” said Vickie Galindo, DACC’s director for community education. “Kids come in and develop an app, and at the end of the week they have an app that they’ve made and can play.”
Instructor Stephanie Reyes said students enjoy learning to design apps they can play.
“Students spend the week learning basic code, and designing an app with levels,” Reyes said. “They create the characters and levels themselves. They’re having the time of their lives. They love to create. They’re learning how hard coding can be, but also how rewarding it is.”
This summer, Kids Kollege is also offering courses in robotics, crime scene investigation, chemistry, drawing, animation and Minecraft design.
Courses are available for children ages five to 14, and space remains in several of the courses. However, they are filling up quickly, according to lead instructor Marina Atma.
Information about Kids Kollege is available at dacc.augusoft.net.
Damien Willis may be reached at 575-541-5468, firstname.lastname@example.org or @damienwillis on Twitter.