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Austin ISD Uses 'Hour of Code' to Demystify Coding for Female Students

Kate McGee/KUT

Yolanda Sifuentes is a seventh grader at Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy. At 12, she already has big dreams for her future. She says she wants to be a psychologist because she likes to help people with their problems; or she wants to be a cosmetologist because she's really into beauty; or she wants to be an engineer because she likes to build stuff. She's still choosing, she admits.

Sifuentes has always liked engineering. Last year, she was part of Garcia Middle School’s Tech Girls after-school robotics club. Now, she’s sitting in her school library writing code. 

"Like, if I'm an engineer, of course I'm going to need to learn to code and stuff," Sifuentes says clicking away at her computer.

Sadler Means is one of the AISD schools participating in a global campaign called Hour of Code, which exposes students to the basics of coding. It’s hosted by the non-profit, Last year, 15 million students worldwide participated in Hour of Code in five days.

Eighth-grader Jalysa Wilson says in the beginning she was intimidated by the idea of coding.

“I was like, 'Oh My Gosh, what are we supposed to do?'" But Wilson says she quickly caught on. "Once you get it, it's like that. You can just go and keep going, it's so easy."  

That's one of the goals: demystify coding for students, especially young girls, like Wilson.

“We need more women in that type of field," Wilson says. "Sometimes I even hear that parents say it, that their son should be doing it, not their daughters, and it feels like why not?”

Sifuentes says messages like that make her want to work harder.

“There’s been a recent commercial where this girl she wanted to build stuff and she did good in science class. But her parents don’t want her to because it’s too dangerous. And at the end she’s putting on make up because she gave up on science because no one let her.”

After just a few days of practice coding, she’s created her own computer game.

The Hour of Code campaign comes as states like Texas are trying to encourage students to take more computer science courses. Last legislative session, lawmakers decided high school students can count two computer science can fulfill the foreign language requirement. New  high school graduation requirements, school districts must offer two computer science courses or Advanced Placement Computer Science and at least two other technology related courses, like video game programming or digital art and animation.

Andrea Tole is the technology teacher at Sadler Means. She says it’s important to expose technology to all students—especially girls. But increasing diversity among computer scientists will also have a positive affect.

“Every career can benefit from having a balance that reflects the population," Tole says. "Once you get a good balance of people working on projects or solving problems, that’s where ingenuity happens and creativity flourishes.”

According to the Austin ISD, fewer than 500 high school graduates in Central Texas competed a computer science course last year.  To get students started early, Austin ISD gives students one high school elective credit if he or she takes two semesters of technology in middle school.

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