Thirty-six students are building educational foundations in math and science this week by learning how to build and use computers.
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Nineteen girls and 17 boys, primarily of Alaska Native descent, are learning about some of the latest contemporary technology while at the same time studying the traditional lifestyle of Southeast Alaska. The two-week summer institute at the Vocational and Technology Resource Center is a partnership between the Juneau School District's "Transitions: Looking Both Ways" grant and the Tlingit and Haida Central Council's National Science Foundation Science Technology Engineering Math grant.
"With this camp, our curriculum revolves around Western knowledge and Native ways of life," said Alberta Jones, one of the camp coordinators.
Jones said the students have been ready to begin learning at 8:30 a.m. sharp each morning this week, partly because perfect attendance earns each student an Apple iPod music player.
"Some are tired, but they're there," she said.
The students are excited to have the hands-on opportunity to learn how to build and use the computers, Jones said.
"I hope that they're totally turned on to technology and computers," she said. "Current research shows Alaska Native/American Indian students are motivated and successful in technology, and I hope this summer institute exposure has opened doors for them and shown them what they're capable of accomplishing."
Leon Andree has experience using computers, but until this week he never considered building one.
"It was actually pretty cool," he said. "I learned a lot about computers that I never knew. A lot of people think I'm this big computer nerd and know everything, but I've got a lot to learn."
Andree said one of the best parts of the program is that after a couple of years the students will get to keep the computers they built if they are able to reach a certain level of academic success.
"It's pretty awesome," he said. "I guess it's better than sleeping in every day."
Jacob Hotch, who missed basketball camp to attend the summer institute, said it was pretty cool building a computer for the very first time.
"Actually it was pretty easy and if there were hard spots people would come and help us," he said.
Katrina Starbard said she enrolled in the program to gain more computer knowledge and learn how to install programs, and hopes to head home at the end of next week with a brand new iPod music player.
She said it's a little difficult being in an educational program from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for two weeks during the summer break.
"It is since I had other summer activities that I could have been doing, but school is more important," Starbard said.
Dennis Dishion, a computer trainer contracting with the University of Alaska Anchorage, has been instructing the students on how to build and install programs on the computers this week.
"We try to give them a relatively decent background on all of the components," he said.
Dishion said he hopes the students will come away from the summer institute with the skills and ability to understand how personal computers work.
"Getting a solid background on computer skills is very important for the kids," he said.
Jones said the students are not learning only about computers, but are also learning algebraic equations and getting some traditional physical activity too, such as canoeing on Twin Lakes. Also, David Katzeek has spent 30 minutes each morning telling traditional Alaska Native stories and guest speakers have given presentations about education opportunities.
"I hope our guest speakers enlighten them on future opportunities they have," Jones said. "I hope they gain self-confidence in their academic skills in their future education."
Starbard said she hopes her fellow students will enjoy education more after participating in the summer institute.
"Kids our age should be more academic-type than fun, because life isn't all about fun - it's got to be about knowledge too," she said.
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