In November 2016, YWCA Greater Charleston launched Charleston’s first Girls Who Code club for middle school girls. With the success of that pilot program and three more girls’ coding clubs behind it, the nonprofit is today launching six new Y Girls Code clubs for girls of all ages across the Charleston area.
Each club is designed to economically empower girls of color by helping them break gender and racial barriers in the high-paying technology industry. Participating girls learn key coding concepts, solve a problem in their own communities using what they’ve learned, and join a network of other girls and women in technology.
The new Y Girls Code clubs begin this week at Charleston Progressive Academy, Memminger Elementary School, and Stono Park Elementary School, and will begin in coming weeks at North Charleston Elementary School, Morningside Middle School, and North Charleston High School.
The elementary school clubs are open to any girl interested in technology in the third, fourth, or fifth grades. Morningside’s club is open to girls in the sixth, seventh, or eighth grades, and North Charleston High School’s club is open to girls in the ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grades.
The clubs beginning this week will take place after school; the clubs at the North Charleston schools will take place after school or during other non-school hours.
The new clubs are part of a long-term plan at YWCA Greater Charleston. While its first club, held at Sanders-Clyde Creative Arts School, sought to start middle school girls on a financially empowering career path, the nonprofit planned then to expand the clubs to girls of other ages.
“We originally intended to expand the program to girls in other middle schools and high schools across the Charleston region,” said LaVanda Brown, executive director of YWCA Greater Charleston, “so that girls who began attending a club in middle school could continue through their high school careers, learning more advanced skills, honing their interests, and continuing to build relationships with other girls and women in technology.”
The pilot program was so successful, the nonprofit expanded the clubs to elementary school girls as well, something it is continuing to do now. “This spring, four of our six coding clubs are for girls in grades three, four, and five,” said Djuanna Brockington, women’s empowerment coordinator at YWCA Greater Charleston. “We’ve also added a new middle school and a high school, so now we can help set these girls up for success from the third grade to the cusp of their college careers.”
Despite new interest in diversity initiatives at many of the world’s largest technology firms, women of color are still woefully underrepresented in the industry, which pays wages that are well above average.
According to the Women and Girls of Color in Computing data brief, published in 2018 by a partnership including Arizona State University’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, women of color represent 39% of America’s female population, but make up less than 3% of the technology workforce, and women of color receive less than 1% of all venture funding, a field that tends to be highly concentrated in technology.
Just 2% of all high school students taking an advanced placement computer science course are black girls, the report said.
Brockington is particularly looking forward to launching the new club at Charleston Progressive Academy. “This is our second Y Girls Code club there, and I think the school staff will see positive differences in the girls in terms of their growth, problem-solving skills, and the like,” she said, noting that a Charleston Progressive Academy student won a Google Pixelbook laptop as part of a girls’ Google Coding Party hosted by YWCA Greater Charleston in October.
To be eligible to win the prize, participants completed a coding project to design their own GIF, a graphics interchange formatted file of an animation or image for use online. They also wrote an essay about what they had learned during the project and how they felt their new coding skills might impact their futures.