Sophomore Katy Dark’s family immigrated to Salt Lake City from Argentina when she was a toddler, but the bilingual student still seamlessly slides into her first language on a dime—like when she greets her abuela visiting Rowland Hall for Grandparents Day, or when she volunteers for the after-school coding club she founded at Dual Immersion Academy (DIA).
In February, Katy won a President's Volunteer Service Award for her work at DIA, among other efforts. The sophomore earned the gold-level award for 2018, meaning she volunteered over 250 hours in one year. She’s the first Rowland Hall student to win this national award in over a decade, according to Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund.
Katy was surprised by the distinction but grateful to Rowland Hall—her invaluable experiences here inspired her to help DIA after they lost funding for computer science this school year. “Rowland Hall opened up a lot of possibilities for me,” Katy said, “and I know that coding can give DIA students new opportunities.”
Katy has accomplished much in the past few years, with help from the Rowland Hall community. That's part of why she’s now paying it forward to DIA students. “As a Latina, I don’t get all these opportunities normally,” she said. “I wanted to be able to even the playing field.”
Katy, a Patricia C. Brim Memorial Scholar who’s been here since sixth grade, has had an especially remarkable few years. In March, she won an Aspirations in Computing regional honorable mention. She’s only a sophomore, and she said she already has a scholarship offer from a local college. Also this year, she traveled to Costa Rica for interim and to Southern Utah, Nashville, and Portland for student diversity and leadership retreats. Last summer, she interned with the National Security Agency, and the summer before that she studied criminology and computer science at the University of Cambridge in England. She did all these things, she said, with help from the Rowland Hall community, which is part of why she’s now paying it forward to DIA students. “As a Latina, I don’t get all these opportunities normally,” Katy said. “I wanted to be able to even the playing field.” The DIA coding club has taken a lot of work, she said, but she’s invested in the community and up for the challenge.
The sophomore has remained fluent in Spanish thanks in part to attending DIA for elementary school. Her mom, Patricia Dark—one of DIA’s co-founders—enrolled Katy and older sister Elli (now a Rowland Hall senior) in the bilingual academy to keep their language skills sharp. When Katy left DIA she kept close ties, volunteering after school and on weekdays when Rowland Hall wasn’t in session.
DIA has about 500 students total in kindergarten through eighth grade, and they take classes in English and Spanish: the academy prepares students to become “bilingual, bi-literate, and bicultural while developing the tools to be successful in higher education, the workforce and in life,” according to their mission. It’s a Title One school where about 98% of students (compared to about 57% of Salt Lake City School District students) come from economically disadvantaged families and qualify for free or discounted school lunch.
After hearing about DIA’s funding cuts, Katy—a passionate computer science student who’s already laser-focused on pursuing a career in the field—sprang into action and started the coding club. She spends her weekends planning lessons, which she delivers Tuesdays from 3 to 5:30 pm—except in spring when she golfs for Rowland Hall and friend Alex Armknecht, a junior, subs for her. Katy has taught her 22 club members about programming basics using kid-friendly sources such as Hour of Code and Scratch. She’s also gotten to know the kids, tailored her approach based on their levels of comfort with the material, invited them to community coding events, helped them with non-computing schoolwork, and served as a mentor. “These kids are incredible,” Katy wrote in an essay about her volunteerism, “and they can do so much more than most people realize.” She said she hopes the club encourages DIA students to take computer science in high school, and ultimately, college.
Katy is self-motivated and didn’t necessarily expect recognition for her service, but teachers agree the national distinction is deserved. “Katy is incredibly dedicated to computer science,” said Ben Smith, her AP Computer Science teacher. The coding club was entirely her idea, he added. “I gave her some advice, but she really took off on her own.”
Katy also runs Rowland Hall’s Latinx affinity group, has volunteered with the Rotary Club, and has been “a tireless contributor to her community,” according to Ryan. “Katy sets a clear bar amongst her peers about the importance of giving back,” the ethical education director said, “and not waiting for an opportunity to arise, but instead creating those opportunities where she sees them.”