Makayla Gates, 18, of Peralta, New Mexico, a senior at Valencia High School, has taken a leading role in her community and state in advocating for computer technology access for rural, low-income and non-English-speaking students, and in training teachers and students to use computers. Makayla, who lives in a rural community and attends a school 11 miles from town, struggled with schoolwork that increasingly required computers or smart phones, and realized that many other students faced the same predicament. “I watched too many very bright students like myself failing classes and unable to keep up with work that is difficult, if not impossible, to complete without access to computer technology,” she said.
Makayla began writing letters and personally contacting public officials and local organizations to lobby for technology funding, made presentations about her concerns, and eventually met with two different governors. When her school learned it would receive free Apple laptops, she became a certified Apple Teacher and volunteered to train teachers, administrators and students on the new computers. Makayla also has been appointed by Governor Lujan Grisham to a state computer science education task force, which will enable her to continue advocating for technology education and implementation, and to visit schools across New Mexico to assess needs and devise plans. “Computer and internet competency are essential 21st-century skills,” she said, emphasizing that it’s critical to help students who are “risking their futures, through no fault of their own, just because they are poor and have little or no access or training in computer technology.”