There has been plenty of initiatives in recent years to get young women and girls in science and technology jobs. But in general, tech and science programs have been few and far between in rural communities. The Homer Public Library is working to solve that problem. The library expanded its computer coding program this month to target young girls in the community and wants to set them up for success in the tech business.
Sounds of laughter are not usually what you would associate with coding. But that’s what you would have found in a Girls Code course for girls ages 8-12 in early February. Eight girls, each accompanied by a woman family member, gathered at the library.
Nine-year-old Grace was coding on an iPad in order to direct a blue robot named Dash.
“Dash, go forward,” she said laughing when the robot zoomed off and slammed into red cups.
Grace's grandmother, Robin McAllistar, said she brought Grace in for the Girls Code program because she showed an interest in science, but when it came to coding in particular, Grace didn’t seem too interested at first.
"Initially she kept reading her book and it wasn't going to intrigue her," she said. "But as soon as they were hands-on with their robot and she started understanding how the code is like addresses then they both became very engaged."
Everything in this two-hour course was set up to make the concept of coding welcoming and accessible to girls: the collaborative environment, the female family members and the hands-on activity. Youth Services Librarian Claudia Haines said even the robots were made intentionally for girls.
"For example, they did research with kids on where to place the wheels," Haines said. "And they figured out that more kids including more girls were attracted to the robots when the wheels were underneath instead of on the side. Some of the girls that they surveyed felt like robots with wheels on the outside were boy robots."
The library received a grant from Google and the American Library Association to help bridge the digital divide and provide classes like these in rural towns like Homer. The library has already put that funding to use and put on an 11-week program called HPL Code, which was open to older kids 11-14.
"You know kids kind of came and went," Haines said of the program. "But it was predominantly boys for whatever reason. And so we would like to encourage a more diverse group."
February’s Girls Code event was a one-time deal, at least for now. The library intends to schedule more girl-centric coding days, and Haines said the library initiative is important because she said women bring something unique to the table.
"Girls and women are early adopters of technology and yet they are not as present in terms of the creation side," she said. "And really if girls and women are early adopters, wouldn't it be great if they were creating the tech they were using?"
Haines added that Girls Code events can boost the confidence of the girls who come, and she hopes that confidence will shepherd them into other more consistent programs. But even for girls who already like to code, like 11-year-old Esme, the class is still fun.
"Well when I went to the class before, it was just boys, nothing but boys," she said. " I was the only girl there and I'm like where's all the other girls?"