These are the girls who code

Closing the STEM gender gap


WE LOVE COMPUTERS—Sabrina Stone, an incoming senior at Oak Park High School, right, won a grant to create a girls-only computer coding class. Middle school students had to submit an essay to be considered for entry. Students in the class produced animated clips after learning how to write multiple pages of code. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers

WE LOVE COMPUTERS—Sabrina Stone, an incoming senior at Oak Park High School, right, won a grant to create a girls-only computer coding class. Middle school students had to submit an essay to be considered for entry. Students in the class produced animated clips after learning how to write multiple pages of code. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers

Sabrina Stone, an incoming senior at Oak Park High School, is getting a leg up this summer on a career in technology.

It all started with a summer 2017 Girls Who Code immersion program at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. The experience was so rewarding that Sabrina launched and hosted a girls-only after-school coding club on campus during her junior year.

Oak Park High computer teacher Erik Amerikaner encouraged Sabrina to go one step further and apply for a grant to create a summer program for Girls Who Code, an organization whose mission is to close the gender gap in technological fields.

“There is still a huge imbalance of girls (in tech jobs),” Sabrina said. “It’s still male-dominated.”

After submitting a 40-page proposal to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, Sabrina won a $3,000 AspireIT award and used it to create a WonderCode curriculum that provided 15 middle school girls with the chance to learn Java and Alice 3, programs used in animation.

“There were a lot more applicants than space allowed,” Sabrina said of her WonderCode class that was designed to encourage girls to pursue computer and other technology classes.

With so many applicants, choosing just 15 girls to join the class was tough, Sabrina said. To help with the decision, she required each applicant to submit an essay about their interest in technology.

She said social studies teacher Tim Chevalier helped make the class a reality. The two-week program ended June 28 with an open house that allowed the students to share their coding projects with parents and friends.

Sabrina said she created the curriculum to center on art.

“I love art,” she said. “I wanted to create something that blends technology with an art medium.”

Before using computer codes to create animated shorts, students jotted their ideas in sketchbooks and then created storyboards before translating the story into computer language that would produce an animated clip.

Each student presented a 30-second clip that centered on a social theme.

The story developed by a student named Samantha touched on “phishing” schemes, wherein a scammer attempts to gain access to personal information through the internet. Phishing is prevalent on social media, and students that fall for a variety of tricks are at risk. Samantha’s panda character became prey to such a scheme. The moral of her story was that students should never share personal information, including phone numbers, addresses—even the school they attend—on Facebook, Instagram or other social media venues,.

Kaela focused on cyberbullying in her clip and created a story that demonstrated the harm that students can wreak on others with a keystroke.

Another student, Nandita, created “Bret the Pig,” which emphasized the need to be careful who you befriend on social media.

Shyla’s project integrated a time-travel theme in a longer animated clip, while Vrinda’s project focused on fake websites. She said her favorite part of the class was when they went on a field trip to Walt Disney Studios.

One girl’s project centered on loneliness and how self-esteem is sometimes linked to how many online friends a student has on Facebook or Instagram. Her story concerned a girl needing to find a true friend and trusting her mother to combat online bullying.

In addition to presenting their animated shorts and the theme of how students should handle tech-driven social issues, Sabrina asked the students to talk about their favorite part of the class.

Some kids enjoyed the dance breaks while others mentioned water balloon fights in between their programming lessons.

At the end of the presentation, Sabrina presented each student with a certificate for their accomplishment. An outdoor “tea party” for students and parents followed.