Girls Who Code goes beyond programming

Photo courtesy of the City of St. Petersburg

BY ANTHONY NOLFI, Neighborhood News Bureau

ST. PETERSBURG — Creating an entirely new app or website from scratch may sound like a massive undertaking, but if a group of sixth graders can achieve it, anything’s possible.

Girls Who Code is a wide-reaching program that teaches girls as young as elementary school to college level students coding, web management skills, and a slew of other helpful developmental traits.

“The American Library Association considers computational thinking, such as coding, to be a new core literacy,” stated Mandy Morris, the Youth Services Coordinator at the James Weldon Johnson Library. “It’s become very big in libraries to see these types of programs.”

This year marked the third session of the 10-week program at the library, with the program ending April 17. The previous two sessions were held in the spring and fall of 2018.

According to the organization’s website, more than 90,000 girls have participated in the program, in which creativity and teamwork take center stage.

The founder of the program, Reshma Saujani, stated that the Girls Who Code hopes to “achieve gender parity in computer science by 2027,” and that the program is on track to reach that goal.

For now, the Johnson library is the only public library in the area that holds the program, though there are several other classes in the area.

A group of sixth graders made up the core of the session, filling a small classroom-sized room within the library, which was overseen by two facilitators of the Youth Program.

Using App Lab from Code.org, Anthony Pepper and Paige West-Fisher, facilitators of the programs alongside Morris, run through the lessons for the day, highlighting a woman in tech. The girls in the class, each seated with their respective computers, then discuss the achievements and skills shown to them.

On the subject of creating to-do lists and meeting deadlines, each of the girls volunteers her own way of staying on task and whom they would go to have confidential discussions with.

And all of this happens well before the coding talk begins.

“What’s great about the program is that it teaches the girls not just technical skills, but also project management skills… teamwork skills and leadership skills,” Morris said.

The program, Morris explained, is tailored toward the girls, making each session different. The young ladies decide on a problem or issue, ranging from a community-based complaint or an academic obstacle to tackle and develop an app or website to solve the problem.

Last year, for example, the girls who participated worked on an app called Fabulous Hair Everywhere, which would allow a user to enter in a hair type. A list of recommended products would be brought up in accordance with what was entered.

Participants choose their projects and work at their own pace to solve the issues they take a personal interest in and use the technical skills they’ve cultivated together as a class to learn and grow.

“A big part of the program is teaching girls to be brave, not perfect,” Morris said. “It gives them the confidence, even if they make a mistake, to get up and try again.”

Girls Who Code is free for the public for anyone who is interested and runs for about an hour and a half. The program is for school-aged girls with a hankering to meld tech skills with creativity in a teamwork-based atmosphere.

Log on to girlswhocode.com for more information and to find out when and where the next sessions are taking place.

Anthony Nolfi is a student reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Visit nnbnews.com for more info.

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