Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick visited Plymouth yesterday to learn about the Girls Who Code (GWC) Club at Riverside Intermediate School. The Girls Who Code Club at Plymouth Schools incorporates students from 6th grade up to senior year. The club currently has girls from Riverside, Lincoln Jr. High school and St. Michael’s Catholic School.
The club sponsor and founder of Plymouth’s chapter of Girls Who Code, Tara Sharp, said she heard of the national program through an episode of 60 Minutes and promptly registered as a GWC site. Sharp mentioned that she believes Plymouth pioneered the program within the state of Indiana.
She introduced the club instructor, Terry Burkins, a local software developer for Fortress Grand who has been volunteering for the program since its conception four years ago. Instructor Burkins said he believes it’s important to have this club available to younger students because that’s when they’re doing it because it is something they’re interested in rather than simply seeing it as a way to get a job.
He said that while he does provide guidance and instruction, he allows the girls to get creative with their ideas. He also encourages them to practice persistence and patience when programming since mistakes will be made and that’s how you learn.
Several club members were also in attendance and they had a chance to show-case their creations. Some girls had made games, others made interactive videos. They all went into detail about the specific steps it took to make their particular programs. Seventh grader, Starla Maza, talked about a service learning project they’re currently working on as a group. The anti-bullying game would incorporate personalized avatars and story lines while simultaneously providing helpful resources to the students who play it.
Dr. McCormick asked the students a couple of questions, and got them to open up about the advantages of having a club like this. One student shared how it is nice to have a sense of sisterhood, while another said she felt fortunate to have access to the resources to learn these skills in the typically male-dominated field of computer science. Emma Hensley, an 8th grade student who attends St. Michael’s Catholic School commented on how she suggested implementing more computer classes into their curriculum as a result of being a club member.
At the state level, changes are happening. Students could soon be required to demonstrate post-secondary readiness and employability skills in order to graduate. Dr. McCormick commented that this club could be used as an example across the state of the kind of programs that others can incorporate into their school systems to help achieve those goals.