Girls and Coding: Seeing What the Future Can Be

From left to right, Gilliam Jacobs, Brittany Greve, Andrea Chaves, Noran Omar, Angela Diep.

At the White House for the White House Champions of Change for Computer Science Education! From left to right, Gilliam Jacobs, Brittany Greve, Andrea Chaves, Noran Omar and Angela Diep.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

This is a common expression that, perhaps like me, you’ve heard many times. For the girls at the Young Women’s Leadership school where I teach in New York City, this is – sadly — the case. My students couldn’t see themselves as women in STEM careers, and in fact, knew little about the opportunities offered within the field.

That’s why I made it my mission to bring computer science to our school.

My principal was excited at the idea of incorporating computer science (CS), but took me by surprise when she said I would have to teach it. As a certified Spanish teacher, I had no background in CS other than being digitally competent. But, after starting to learn through an online training program, I decided to blend computer science into my advanced Spanish speakers class because I figured why not have students learning Spanish dive into coding, too.

On the first day of class, I announced to the girls in Spanish that we were going to do tons of reading, writing and editing – but in a language called JavaScript. I made it clear that I wasn’t fluent in this language, but reassured them that we were on this journey together.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the gender gap is not due to women lacking STEM-related skills, but rather because young women are conditioned to believe that careers in technology and science are reserved for men. That’s part of why I also decided to start two after-school programs: a partnership with an existing organization, Girls Who Code, which works to inspire and educate women to pursue careers in technology and my own program, TechCrew – an internship program that exposes girls to coding, graphic design, animation and film.

Watch the girls in Chaves’ class who created the nutrition game, Healthy Bunch, which won the MIT-sponsored competition “Dream It. Code It. Win It.”

Each club started with eight girls, but TechCrew now includes 30 girls working collaboratively to create and produce technology-driven projects. Students have coded video games and apps about recycling, healthy eating habits, carbon footprints, space debris, learning Spanish and more. As one of my students, Brittany Greve, says, “Computer science has allowed me to look at a problem from multiple perspectives and use logic to come up with innovative solutions.”

My students have also become leaders within the CS community. We’ve worked together on all sorts of projects, such as a summer coding camp in Queens where girls learned to build apps that advocate for social justice. Additionally, my TechCrew is currently leading 50 girls in the creation of a Digital Dance, in which dancers, filmmakers, graphic designers and coders are bringing together their expertise to create a beautiful piece of art.

Watch Chaves’ students talking about why they love to code and how coding has influenced them (in English).

Watch Chaves’ students talking about why they love to code and how coding has influenced them (in Spanish).

I am a Spanish teacher by training, but I took a risk to integrate CS into my curriculum and learned that this language does not have to stand on its own. It can be infused into any subject in any classroom. All it takes is a little innovation, trust and risk-taking.

One of my students put it best, “CS has opened a new pathway in my life. It has made me discover a part of who I am that I didn’t know existed. I can now see what I would like my future to be,” she said.

Andrea Chaves is a Spanish and computer science teacher and creative director at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria, New York. She was recently named a White House Champion of Change.

6 Comments

  1. Amazing what the future generation are able to do.
    I am an Italian teacher and I would like to be “programadora” like those brilliant student girls in the videos.

  2. Thanks for sharing these great experiences! I am Riccardo Ricceri, teacher in Arezzo Italy in the primary school “A, Curina”. I am involved in eTwinning Projects. I thank you our expert teacher Marco Neves for the opportunity to learn more about coding! Hear you soon, thanks to all you! Greetings from Italy!

  3. I stumbled upon this article and glad I did. I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Are there any resources or services available for someone outside of your area? If it’a location specific, that is also quite all right; all girls involved are very fortunate! This particular type of organization is extremely impressive and awe-inspiring.

  4. Brava! What an inspiration! I teach Spanish and Computer Science at my school. What a brilliant way to incorporate both!

  5. Absolutely delighted and inspired by this ‘female focus’ and Spanish speaking presentation. Keep up this wonderful educational work. So valuable, so needed. 👍 G

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