Border Kids Code co-founder, Dalinda Gonzalez-Alcantar, didn’t try sushi until after college. Before that, she didn’t even know what it was.
Her son, however, tried the Japanese dish for the first time at age 7.
“The fact that he knew it existed — and it was a choice that was given to him and he was exposed to it — that’s how I think about Border Kids,” Gonzalez said. “How can they choose something that they don’t know exists?”
One of the reasons Gonzalez-Alcantar, 37, and her co-founder, Marcos Silva, started Border Kids Code was to address a problem that plagues most minority and low-income communities: “learning loss” over summer vacation.
“A lot of times you have students in a certain socioeconomic status that can’t really afford to have a summer learning experience: things like going to camps, or even having basic transportation for going to the library,” she said. “So, we continue to see kids decline when it comes to learning as opposed to their counterparts who are often engaged in learning over the summer.
“Border Kids was created to bridge that gap.”
Over the summer, students participate in more than 120 hours of curriculum taught in English, Spanish, and of course, code. There are currently 1.2 million jobs in tech unfilled, and teaching children to be “trilingual” makes them uniquely qualified to fill those positions, she said.
“I can’t think of any other region in the country that can really provide that in a natural setting,” Gonzalez-Alcantar said, adding that communities such as the Rio Grande Valley often boast an “education-is-the-only-way-out mentality.”
“I’ve seen that our kids want it more,” she said. “There’s a drive that we have — probably because we’re always slapped in the face with poverty — that you realize very quickly that the only vehicle to get yourself out of that is education.”
Gonzalez-Alcantar has 13 years of experience in education, and is also executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. There, she works to create opportunities for children to learn the fundamentals of computer science — something she said is “invaluable,” but might not be taught in their schools.
In her case, she learned how to code via YouTube videos, which she said required “just being really terka (stubborn),” and practicing basic problem-solving skills.
Similar to her relationship with sushi, she’s never attended South By Southwest until this year where she’ll participate in a panel dubbed “Minority Report: Engaging Kids of Color In Tech.”
“It was always out of reach for me, at least financially,” the Texas State University graduate said.
Out of the three Valley natives participating in interactive media events at SXSW, she’s the only one who’s based locally.
To her, the most important part is “sitting at the table and having these conversations,” and looking at the big picture.
“For me, going to SXSW is a little tough because sometimes it’s hard to talk about things in color, and share the reality that Texas is going to be a majority-minority state and if we don’t really get with it, it can really have economic effects,” she said. “It has huge repercussions. It’s not just about kids flying a drone or looking at a VR headset; it’s about teaching them their options so that this state can still be OK when we become the majority.
“Having those real conversations on that level at SXSW is going to take a little bit of courage, to just outright say it and say ‘do something about it.’”
This is the third of three profiles of Rio Grande Valley natives participating in South by Southwest interactive media sessions in Austin.