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The GirlCode program helps female students who love STEM succeed


  • GirlCoders from left to right: Sofia Basilio, Chaya Trapedo, Kayla Massick, Georgia Green, Camille Lurie, Emerson Davis. Photo: Lorraine Duffy Merkl

Talk to the elementary and middle-school members of GirlCode for five minutes and it's easy to feel like Penny on “The Big Bang Theory.”

These young women are not only proficient in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), but intelligent, poised, articulate, and personable. At the Celebrating Young Girls in STEM event on November 8 at the Arlo Nomad Hotel in midtown, they were also excited to present their socially-conscious projects, each with a game component, because it's not enough for them to play for recreation. They want to create the games.

Kayla Massick, 12, has attended The Coding Space — home of The GirlCode Program — since she was nine. Inspired by her grandfather, an environmentalist, she designed the Clean Water Project, where players remove debris floating down a river. “I like coding because it lets me make something from nothing.” Because the crafting of any tech project has its bugs, Kayla, like any true coder, has the wherewithal to sit at her computer, “until I figure it out.”

10-year-old Georgia Green, who has been with GirlCode for a year, chose to raise awareness about poverty, inequality and hunger by developing the Q&A game Code For Change. For her, the fun was “making it more than the finished product.”

Robots fashioned by MIT ignited a passion for tech in Sofia Basilio, 10, who's been with GirlCode for two years and presented Clean Water For All, “to teach kids about stopping ocean pollution.”

GirlCode is one of the hands-on programs offered at The Coding Space, which has locations on both the Upper East and Upper West Side of Manhattan. GirlCode's mission: To create a world where girls and women have the tools, drive and community to shatter the glass ceiling.

Co-founders Nicole Kelner, Eli Kariv and Steve Krouse began The Coding Space three years ago, offering co-ed afterschool programs, because they saw there was a huge demand for coding education. In a 2016 Gallup study of K-12 schools nationwide, 90 percent of parents said theyed want their kids to learn coding but only 40 percent of schools offered computer science courses. “Coding is a great skill that we want all students to learn,” says Kariv. “It's a second language, just like Spanish or French. It's also an amazing medium for solving problems and critical thinking.”

After the launch, they decided to add a girls-only program based on Kelner's experience as one of the only women at her former tech job in San Francisco. Rather than complain to female colleagues about how there aren't enough women in tech, she and Kariv started girl coding workshops. They were such a hit, a summer program and after school classes were added, and GirlCode was born.

Through the power of coding, Kelner says, “We teach computational thinking, a growth mindset, and confidence to young girls. We especially love providing a space where they can imagine a better future self by being exposed to positive female mentors in STEM. We also go on field trips to Google, Facebook and Microsoft. [The girls] start thinking of themselves as problem-solvers in the world of technology.”

Coding is a powerful tool to help young women change the world. No one knows that better than the mothers whose girls participate in GirlCode.

Educator Shaina Trapedo says that after two days at the GirlCode summer camp, her daughter Chaya, 13, came home talking about loops and algorithms. “I have a Ph.D. in English, yet didn't understand what she was talking about,” said Shaina. So Chaya explained: “This is the language we use to talk to computers.”

Impressed with the program's “empowering initiative,” Shaina introduced it to her administrators at the Manhattan High School for Girls on the Upper East Side, where she is the Director of Humanities. Now, coding is part of the school's core curriculum. “If they take English and math, they need coding. It's collaborative and teaches problem-solving.”

For Chaya, though, coding is “a labor of love. It's exciting to see things happen.” Of all the activities she's pursued — sewing, 3D animation, general camp offerings — “coding is the best.” Her contribution to the event was a water-saving game called Pro Water. “I thought about all the water we waste by leaving the tap on when brushing our teeth,” she said, then cited how people in the Third World are lucky if they have a bucket of water that has to last for days.

Emerson Davis, 11, and her partner Camille Lurie both loved video games and wanted to make their own. With their Poverty Project, when a player loses, their money goes to charity. Emerson has been coding for four years, the last two at The Coding Space. She's been at GirlCode for two months.

Emerson is following in the footsteps of her mother Debra, who has a background in tech. “I came up when girls were told 'math is hard,' and many girls were discouraged. I'm not going to let anyone take the steam out of [Emerson's] love of tech.”

When the Davis family moved from Chicago, Debra found The Coding Space right away. “There isn't a lot out there and the difference I saw with this program was tremendous.”

Is Emerson looking to a career in STEM? According to Debra, her daughter likes coding, has expressed an interest in UI (user interface) design, and is toying with the idea of becoming a YouTube star.

Whatever she, and all the girls of GirlCode choose to do in the future, chances are they'll succeed with coding as their foundation.

For more information about GirlCode, contact admissions@thecodingspace.com or call 929-352-1272 or go online: thecodingspace.com/girlcode.html

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novel “Back To Work She Goes.”

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