East Orange girls who code

 explores coding and sisterhood

By Aria Jimenez, with introduction by Eve Balick


Girls Who Code (GWC) is a leading nonprofit with a mission to close the gender gap in technology. Our programs include our free after-school clubs for grades 3-12, exposing girls to computer science during those critical years. My role is outreach, helping create new partnerships and clubs in New Jersey.

Only one in five computer scientists are women, leaving many women missing out on lucrative technology careers. Girls Who Code alumni, however, major in computer science or related fields at 15 times the national average!

Our clubs are free. No computer science experience is required to run them. We offer a $300 fund to support the clubs. Club members work together to apply their skills to make a project that has an impact in their communities. Moreover, we offer our alumni continuing opportunities for sisterhood, networking and employment.

My work includes both partnership engagement and individual club outreach. We offer partnerships for districts and organizations who start multiple clubs. We have many community partnerships in New Jersey, including collaborations with school districts in Newark, East Orange, Bayonne, Paterson and many more. Learn more about partnerships at girlswhocode.com/communitypartnerships.

Individual host sites, such as schools, libraries, colleges, nonprofits and others can also start individual clubs. (See girlswhocode.com/clubs.) We have hundreds of individual clubs in New Jersey, including the one I run in Kinnelon. Club facilitators are often teachers, librarians, parent volunteers (like me), college students and after-school program coordinators.

As GWC’s clubs outreach coordinator in New Jersey, I am available to provide free workshops about our clubs at professional development events and conferences. Please reach out to me if you are interested.

In this article, Ms. Aria Jimenez shares her journey as a GWC Club facilitator at East Orange STEM Academy, a club in GWC’s Community Partnership with East Orange School District. As you will see from her story, Ms. Jimenez embraced the opportunity to be “brave and not perfect,” as espoused by GWC’s founder and CEO Reshma Saujani. With that outlook, Ms. Jimenez jumped into her GWC Club experience with enthusiasm and courage.

East Orange STEM Academy Girls Who Code Club members participate in Girls Who Code March for Sisterhood.

A girls who code club journey

I am proud of my GWC Club from last year. The year was transformative for me and the girls who joined me. I was hired to teach English last year but on short notice found myself in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) position. I embraced the opportunity with passion, determination and a little fear.

In addition to GWC, many other STEM related opportunities were placed before us, and we dove in to each one. I say “we” because my students took a leap of faith with me for each new opportunity, competition and contest. Finally, an email, flier, and quick request from my administrator got me started with GWC. I signed up immediately and, to prepare, tried to grasp every piece of information and video sent my way.

Some facilitators may take on a GWC club because they are highly experienced in STEM fields, but I saw a desperate need for girls to have a place to gather, strengthen their confidence, feel “counted” and empower their visions to be the very best in all of their endeavors. Girls from sixth to eighth grades joined, posing our first challenge of engaging all girls of different ages together. Through the club’s mini plans, extra ice breakers, music, discussions, and watching and highlighting “Women in the Spotlight,” we drew closer together. With only one day a week to meet, we ended up wishing we had more time together.

Once we were closer and had developed a strong, consistent group presence, we got to work on our vision for the club and our school. We wanted to create a website and an app that would allow us to track and measure the social-emotional health of our peers and come up with ways to turn a challenging day into a more peaceful and productive one. We struggled with fully implementing our ideas because of restraints on access to the blog website and YouTube, but we always found a way around it by coding fervently using Code.org projects that included apps to create art and dance videos. We created QR codes and put them on display for students and staff to scan and watch the animation of art and dance come to life.

I was inspired by their engagement and found more ways to get them excited about our club through the events we registered for, such #Raiseahandforsisterhood, #Marchforsisterhood and more. My girls designed a gorgeous T-shirt just in time for Valentine’s Day using CustomInk.com. This was my gift to them at the time and a small way to say thanks for all of their hard work. The front heart and figurative hands showed: “Girls Who Code Have Heart” and on the back #STEMwillRise. Rise, we did!

I am proud of the accomplishments of my girls and STEM students who were inspired by our commitment and the leadership of my girls. We all felt honored to receive funds from Girls Who Code because it enabled me to show my girls that they mattered and allowed me to buy things to make our classroom space and meetings even more special and comfortable.

I’m looking forward to an incredible year ahead. I know that we will be able to work hard to finish the project and mission we began last year with even more fervor and strength. I cannot say enough about this incredible club, and I will do everything in my power to spread a positive message to the girls of my school, city, state and beyond.

I am so grateful for an opportunity to share the story of an ELA teacher who found a passion for teaching girls how to code while learning alongside them. I hope this message reaches far and wide and that many more teachers are supported in ways that allow them to bring GWC Clubs to their schools for all ages.

Aria Jimenez is an English language arts teacher at East Orange STEM Academy. She is also the facilitator of the school’s Girls Who Code Club. Jimenez is a member of the East Orange Education Association. She can be reached at mrsariajimenez@gmail.com.

Eve Balick is the Girls Who Code Regional Partnership Coordinator for New Jersey. She can be reached at eve.balick@girlswhocode.com.

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