Two afternoons a week Trinity’s Parish Center transforms. The midday crowd packs up their lunch containers. The round tables are wiped down. Laptops are brought out from the office, and a projector screen is pulled down over the street-facing windows. Then, in come the students, about a dozen freshman and sophomore women from the High School for Leadership and Public Service, located just down the block. They’ll spend the next two hours learning the basics of computer coding.
Hannah Pierre, left, and Crystal Lino
The students are part of a brand new Girls Who Code Club Program. Girls Who Code is a non-profit “working to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering sectors.” The Trinity/Leadership High Girls Who Code Club is led by Candace Thomas-Rennie, a guidance counselor, and Jasmine Jose, an algebra teacher, both from the high school, working in partnership with Jenn Chinn, Trinity's Program Manager in the Justice and Reconciliation Department, who runs the Parish Center.
“Jenn reached out to me asking to do some kind of collaboration between Trinity and Leadership,” Thomas-Rennie explained. “So we first just had a sit down conversation about some of the issues the school faced.”
It was after identifying the school’s needs that Chinn and Thomas-Rennie created a plan. “We decided that we wanted to develop a club that was targeting our young ladies, especially our freshmen. Jenn told me about a group called Black Girls Code, so I looked into that and ended up finding the wrong club [Girls Who Code]. Miraculously, in finding the wrong club, we were two weeks away from their deadline to use the curriculum for the spring semester.”
Jenn Chinn and Candace Thomas-Rennie
Alexandra Rata, a junior at Leadership High School, serves as the program’s student ambassador, enthusiastically recruiting girls for the club. “It’s important because I know that women usually get paid less than men and I know a lot of women feel underrated. In computer engineering, men have the jobs, and we can change the standard by teaching the girls.”
Rata’s recruits expressed similar hopes. “It’s hard, being first of all a woman--and being a girl of color too, that makes it even harder,” ShaNiya Thomas, a freshman, said. “So it’s nice to break out into something you don’t see too many people like you doing. Then other people, when they come along, maybe they will be like, 'Oh that sounds interesting,' and look up to you, and maybe try to do something that you do.”
The young women in the club have limited experience with coding, but high hopes for what they’ll learn. Thomas wants to combine her interest in art with computer engineering. “Have you ever seen videos from EDM shows or music festivals? I like those graphics. I want to maybe want to learn how to do that with coding.”
Freshman Crystal Lino isn’t sure what she wants to learn yet, but she knows why she needs to learn it. “I’m hoping to learn if this could help me with my future. I’d like to have every little door open for me.”
Hannah Pierre, a freshman, has similar hopes. “Maybe if I don’t want to be a game designer, I could be a coding scientist.”
In the next few weeks, computer programmers and IT specialists from the Bank of New York and Google's New York offices will join the project as coaches, teaching the students the basics of computer language.
Stay tuned for updates on the progress of the Girls Who Code.