An Interview with Michelle Lagos De Javier

Doug:  Through my association with the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA), I’ve had the opportunity to meet Michelle Lagos.  Michelle is a Computer Science teacher at the American School of Tegucigalpa (AST) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We last caught up at the CSTA Conference in Omaha last summer and I made a mental note at the time – I’ve got to interview Michelle for the blog.  She’d be great!

Here goes…

Doug:  My first question, as always, can you remember when we first met?

Michelle: I think we met for the first time at the CSTA conference in Irvine, California in 2012 if I am not mistaken.

Doug:  OK, I’ve got to know.  Going from Tegucigalpa to a CSTA Conference in the United States has to be a major undertaking, no matter who you are.  Why do you do it?

Michelle: I love teaching Computer Science (CS), but in my country it can become a lonely endeavor. There are not many organizations that I can belong to that are for CS teachers. Plus working at an American School we teach based on US standards and curriculum so it matches my work. CSTA has developed into my community throughout the years.

Doug:  For me, getting to Omaha as an international traveller was actually fairly easy.  I crossed into the USA at the Ambassador Bridge into Detroit, cleared Customs, and then drove along I-94 to Detroit Metro Airport and took a direct flight on Delta to Omaha.  How does one get from Honduras to Omaha? Where did you clear US Customs?

Michelle: Well, in Tegucigalpa (my home town), we don’t have an abundant number of flights so the choices are quite limited. For the Omaha trip in particular I flew into the US and cleared customs in Miami, FL and came back home through an overnight connection through Houston, TX. Getting anywhere besides Miami, Houston or Atlanta requires at least one connection, usually arriving around midnight to my final destination, and coming back I usually have to sleep in one of these cities.

Doug:  How do you feel about flying alone?

Michelle: I have been getting used to it although I prefer flying with company, especially my husband. But now I know that if I travel anywhere for CSTA I will get to see good friends wherever I go so that makes it exciting.

Doug:  Tell us about your school.  The pictures from the website look outstanding. (AST)

Michelle: My school is amazing!! It was founded 72 years ago. We are an American School accredited to grant a US high school diploma by AdvancEd; we are an IB school granting an IB diploma and granting a Honduran baccalaureate secondary school degree. We are a Nursery – 12 school. The working environment is great and we are always looking for ways to innovate and prepare our students in the best possible way for college.

Doug:  On Wikipedia, AST lists three former Honduran Presidents as alumni.  That’s impressive. Did they take Computer Science?

Michelle: Yes, we have alumni that have been very successful in different areas including being President of the country. I assume they had a computer application course or an elective advanced computer class.

Doug:  Obviously, the tie that binds us is Computer Science.  You have a wonderful insight into the profession here.
Can you tell us about your computer and Computer Science program at the school?

Michelle: Our Computer Science program starts in Pre-K and goes all the way to 12th grade. Our Ministry of Education has made CS mandatory for graduation which means that all Seniors must take a CS course. We use a progression of using ISTE standards for Pre-School and evolving into CSTA standards.

Doug:  Are you the online Computer Science teacher at AST as well?

Michelle: We do not have online courses. All our courses are on site. My school counts 4 Computer labs equipped with PCs and a CS class room plus we are a one-on-one High School.

Doug:  When students graduate from High School at AST, where do they go?  University, College, Work?

Michelle: We have a 99 to 100% college going rate. A few stay here in Honduras for college especially if they are interested in Medicine or law school; others go to the States, Canada and now more commonly to Europe for college. We also have a Senior year internship program where students can get a short experience in the workforce of their career interest to be able to make a more informed decision before leaving for college.

Doug:  What were the big takeaways from this year’s CSTA Conference that you took back home?

Michelle: There were so many great workshops and conferences that every year it becomes harder to choose which ones to attend, but the keynotes got us great messages. I especially loved the one by Andy Gonzalez one of the authors of “Girl code”. The new launch of CSTA+ was a success and as part of the board of directors it makes me happy to see my association grow and makes me proud to work and serve the CS teachers globally.

Doug:  Last year, a mutual friend of ours, Stephanie, and her husband joined you for holidays in Tegucigalpa.  What kinds of things did you do?

Michelle: Stephanie and Brandon visited us for Thanksgiving. It was their first time in Honduras. We took a short 20 minute flight to an island called Roatan which is part of the Honduran Bay islands. We went snorkeling and got a nice tan in November. Our Bay islands are world famous and an amazing tourist attraction. Snorkeling and scuba diving are a must as they are part of the Mesoamerican coral reef which is the second biggest natural coral reef after Australia. Then we flew back to our coastal city of San Pedro Sula and made the road trip back to my hometown where we celebrated Thanksgiving with my family and visited a small colonial town called Valle de Angeles where we rode a motor taxi commonly known as Tuc Tucs here. Stephanie and Brandon learned how to make tortillas. My kids were teaching them Spanish. It was so much fun having them here.

Doug:  You indicate you speak English, Spanish, and Spanglish.  I’m curious – what does Spanglish mean to you?

Michelle:  For me there are two ways to define Spanglish.  Spanish is my first language, but as a fully bilingual person I learned English at the same time as Spanish. So Spanglish is when you incorporate a word in English into a Spanish sentence because you have no idea how to say that word in Spanish or vice versa. The other thing is (and you might notice this in the way I write or express myself) is that I usually think in Spanish so I use more words to express one thought in English. I speak English 8 or more hours a day as my school is an English spoken campus and my kids are also English/Spanish/Spanglish speaker.s A very funny anecdote is that my first born son who is currently in third grade his lowest grade is always the Spanish class. The reason for this is that my house is more English spoken, we watch TV and movies in English, we read more in English than Spanish and we even talk to each other in English. There is a belief that since English is our second language and we get Spanish everywhere we go, then we should practice our English more frequently.

Doug:  How about your children?  Is it important to you that they are bilingual?  

Michelle: For my husband and me, it is very important that they are at least bilingual and if they can learn a third language such as French, Mandarin etc. even better. We want them to be competitive everywhere and be able to understand and communicate in different ways to open doors. We also consider programming another language as it promotes logic and common sense which is not as common as it should be, so that can also be considered another language they can learn. They have mastered Spanglish by now so there is that too.

Doug:  Not far from your school, there’s this lovely looking green area called Eco Park Juana Lainez.  What can you tell us about that?

Michelle: Cerro Juana Lainez (Juana Lainez hill) is a national monument that has our flag permanently on display and can be seen from most places in town. In recent years a series of foundations have remodeled it and turn it into a nice eco park that involves several areas of our society including our school. Our Senior students have to do a community project as part of our Ministry of Education requirements and this year they are reforesting the areas around the monument. They have also built hiking and bike trails and playgrounds for kids. It is a very nice place inside the city to spend a family Saturday or Sunday. Every time there is a national holiday such as independence day, there is also a tradition that our Armed forces salute the nation 3 times a day, at 6 am, 12 m and 6 pm with 7 cannon blanks making 21 salutes in total.

Doug:  If someone was planning a trip to Tegucigalpa, what are some of the “must-see” places to visit?

Michelle: Definitely Cristo del Picacho, a Sculpture of Christ of 2,500 tons and 98 feet in total height (an image of 65 feet high on a pedestal of 33 feet). It is located in El Picacho, a special place in the strip occupied by the Park of the United Nations and bordering the same hill which is about 2 kms from our house. It is a wonderful sight especially at night. Right there in the same park we have the Rosa Walthers zoo which has been recently remodeled. If you keep going up the hill you find La Tigra National Park an ecological reserve which has great hiking trails where you can see great Honduran flora & fauna. There are many Catholic churches that were built in the colonial era and have great architectural interests and religious antiques and images. Then there is the newest Church which only took 62 years to build (from 1943-2005) and it is now the home of our country’s patron Virgen de Suyapa.

It is also nice to visit the different small museums that are around town such as Museo de Identidad Nacional or MIN as everyone knows it here. If you want to go to the near outsides of town, Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia are two small colonial towns located around 20 minutes away from downtown and have great Honduran typical food restaurants, sights and souvenir shops.

Doug:  If someone was interested in following you on social media, where could they find you?

They can follow me at:

  • Twitter: @mglagos
  • G+:
  • LinkedIn: Michelle Lagos
  • Facebook: Michelle Lagos de Javier
  • Snapchat: mglagos

Doug:  Thank you so much for the interview, Michelle.  I now have more things to chat about when we get together next summer in Phoenix.

Periodically, I interview interview interesting people like Michelle for this blog.  You can read them all here.

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OTR Links 01/16/2019

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