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Face of the Week: Nathan Agboh of Carney Elementary School

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.

Face of the Week: Nathan Agboh of Carney Elementary School

Spend enough time with Nathan Agboh and a theme begins to emerge, a constant in the way he talks about his life, his likes, his goals.

“Most days I’ll play with friends after school, or play on my computer. My favorite games are Minecraft and Roblox.”

“I’d really like to become an engineer or an architect, because they are things that involve construction and building.”

“Science and social studies are some of my favorite subjects, too; in science, there’s a lot of building, and I like that.”

Nathan, a Grade 4 student at Carney Elementary School, is a builder at heart.

And nowhere is his passion on display more than in a 30-second video clip captured by Carney Assistant Principal Jeff Tessier one day during lunch. In the clip – which has now been viewed nearly 5,000 times – Nathan wows his lunchroom classmates by “solving” a Rubik’s Cube in 28 seconds.

“It’s something when I’m able to do it and people clap and applaud,” says 10-year-old Nathan. “I always smile when I hear them. I know that, at the end of it, they’re going to be happy for me to figure it out.”

Nathan’s talent with the Rubik’s Cube isn’t unique. Since its invention in 1974 by Hungarian architect Erno Rubik, and its subsequent marketing after 1980, the puzzle has been a staple of toy shelves worldwide and has spawned a subculture of Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts and competitors. The world record for solving a 3-by-3 cube – nine colored panels on each of the cube’s six sides – is currently 4.59 seconds, held by SeungBeom Cho of South Korea.

Watching Nathan solve a cube is to watch his builder’s mind at work. Starting with a scrambled cube, he pulls and twists the cube in dozens of directions and variations, slowly building colors along each level of the puzzle until he’s able to narrow the challenge to a few last configurations. He insists there’s a method to his mental machinations, but if there is, it happens fast.

“I usually start by completing the green side first, because green is lucky for me,” he says. “I solve one side first, and then I go top to bottom very slowly.” Though, in fairness, there’s nothing slow about what Nathan does.

Coming to Carney

Like most who have ever tried a Rubik’s Cube, it took Nathan a while to become proficient at unmixing the colors on an unsolved cube. He was introduced to the game by his father, Sam Agboh, who gave Nathan his first Rubik’s Cube when Nathan was seven. It took him more than two months to complete his first cube.

Both Sam and his wife, Grace, were cube aficionados briefly before turning their attention to raising their family, which includes Nathan’s sisters, Tatiana, 12, and Annalise, 5. Encouraged by his parents, Nathan kept practicing, he says, learning how to mostly solve a cube sometimes without looking at it. (In fact, the world record for solving a Rubik’s Cube while blindfolded is 18.31 seconds, held by Gianfranco Huanqui of Peru. There are also competitions for solving the puzzle using only one hand (6.88 seconds) or using only feet (20.37 seconds).)

In school at Carney, Nathan is all business; the cube only comes out during lunch or recess. It’s his first year at Carney after his family moved to the community at the beginning of the school year, and so far, he says, “I give the school an 8 out of 10; it’s pretty good.”

Nathan has fit in well, too, earning straight A’s this quarter. “Nathan is a great kid,” says Tessier, whose video has made Nathan a semi-celebrity around Carney. “I usually see him in the cafeteria solving his Rubik’s Cube, or trying to help someone else solve it.  He’s always doing some sort of puzzle or something.

“What I really appreciate about Nathan is that he is a model student,” Tessier says. “He works hard, follows the rules, gets strong grades; he’s a level-headed kid who seems to just get along with most everyone.” 

That sounds about right to Nathan. “I can be a comedian sometimes,” he says, “but at the right times, I am pretty serious.”      

Building higher

For now, Nathan figures he’ll pursue the cube as far as he wants to go, though he’s in no hurry. He says he’d like to enter Rubik’s Cube tournaments, if he has the opportunity, but “I’m okay with the speed I’m at now,” he says.

He’s tried his hand at solving 2-by-2 cubes – they were pretty easy – and his next goal is to tackle the 4-by-4 cubes, which are much harder: 16 faces per side, 96 faces per cube, compared to the 54 on the standard 3-by-3.

Nathan also likes exploring the Rubik’s Cube for the boost he believes it’s given him with his mathematics and other subjects. “It can teach you a lot about math,” he says, because players have to think about sets and numbers and angles if they seek to successfully solve the puzzle. “There’s a YouTube video that uses a Rubik’s Cube to teach you how to multiply,” he adds.

The other valuable lesson Nathan says he’s learned is the payoff that comes from practice. It’s taken him two years to get to his current speed, and he’s constantly fidgeting with a cube when he’s at home or watching TV. “It makes me feel a lot more comfortable to just go at my own pace,” Nathan says. “At the beginning, you’re not going to go as fast as other people. You should go at the pace you can, and build up from there.”

Ah, thoughts of building again. With Nathan, the idea is never far from his mind. And for those who know and work with him, the idea is a natural, too. “I see big things for Nathan as he gets older,” says Tessier, “probably engineering some cool new arena or working for NASA.”

That would be just fine for Nathan Agboh. Just more Rubik’s Cubes to solve and blocks to build.

Do you know of a special person who would be a good candidate for the BCPS “Face of the Week”? Let us know! Send their name, contact information, and what makes them special to  

For more photos, visit the album at the BCPS Flickr page.

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