'I Think it's Rad:' Library Club Inspires Girls to Code
For the past few weeks, 7th graders Gracie Hodes and Sophia Vernier–Molinario have spent every Monday afternoon building their coding and creativity skills at the New Orleans Public Library’s Girls Who Code club.
Designed to be a fun and safe environment for girls to learn about computer science, Girls Who Code is on a mission to change the face of coding. The club is facilitated by Amy DeNisco, a youth services librarian and the assistant manager at Robert E. Smith Library, where Gracie and Sophia spend much of their free time.
“Once upon a time, we were at the Library together, as per usual, and Miss Amy came up to us and said ‘You two girls seem to like books a lot, and this Library a lot,’” Gracie said. “So she gave us a bookmark about Girls Who Code, and I thought it looked like fun, so I joined. And it was fun, so I told Sophia about it and she joined, too.”
Gracie and Sophia were both already interested in coding and had participated in a similar club at school before the pandemic. The two don’t attend the same school anymore, which is one of the reasons they love the Library’s program –– because they can do it together.
Girls Who Code also allows them to flex their creativity while learning a tangible skill at their own pace.
“The projects we work on are fun, and it’s nice not to have actual assignments. We can just do what we want to do and work on things that we like,” Gracie said.
Both girls love theater and musicals, which they incorporate into their projects. Gracie by creating a digital music video for an adaptation to a song from the musical “Be More Chill” and Sophia by reimagining her favorite musical, “Newsies,” if it took place in a world of plants.
“It’s called ‘Plantsies,’” she explained.
Sophia said she enjoys the freedom of the club, which never includes strict instructions.
“Whenever I have a rubric for something, it’s really hard for me to follow along with,” she explained. “The prompts are usually really strict, and I like that, here, we can just do whatever we want, as long as it’s something that has to do with what we’re learning about.”
And that’s what the club is all about, according to Amy, who organized the program.
“Girls Who Code meetings are a space for teens to decompress. They relax and talk while working on creative projects. There is a lot of energy in the meetings, but there is also a lot of joy and passion, too,” she said. “Participants use the meetings to discuss their favorite hobbies and books while incorporating them into their projects, which is wonderful to see, and, I think, inspires them to be more engaged.”
Aside from participating in Girls Who Code, Sophia and Gracie are avid readers and huge Library fans. For them, having a program like this available in a place they love and feel comfortable in means the world.
“I think it’s rad,” Sophia said. “I really love it so much. It’s heartwarming that the Library offers a club like this.”
While Sophia said she might be interested in a career in coding or computer science, Gracie said she doesn’t think she is, but she’s still excited to be learning about it. The two have an extensive list of projects they want to make together –– including a podcast –– that they think could benefit from their new coding skills.
Gracie’s mother, Joni Hodes, said she loves watching her daughter get excited about coding and about the Library in general.
“It’s so interesting to see how much they can do and how many different things they can apply it to. Knowing how to code, even at this level and at their age, can turn into a whole lot of other things,” she said. “She loves the Library so much, and I very much appreciate that this program is available here.”
After joining Girls Who Code, Gracie signed up to be a part of the Library’s Teen Advisory Board, a committee designed to help the Library better serve local youth.
“I am very excited that she’s so interested in the Library,” Joni said. “It’s so close, she can walk over after school and on weekends. And as a 12-year-old, having that independence is really important.”
Though the Hodes have been coming to Smith Library as a family for years, Gracie’s involvement in programs like Girls Who Code and the Teen Advisory Board has allowed them to become aware of the Library as more than just a lending resource.
“I think it’s great that she’s on this committee that allows her to have some sort of input in what the Library is and what it offers,” Joni said.
Girls Who Code is an international program working to engage female and non-binary identifying individuals in the technology sector, a traditionally male-dominated field. For Amy, watching girls like Sophia and Gracie over the past two months has reinforced the importance of that goal, regardless of whether or not participants want to work in tech.
“Girls Who Code promotes bravery, resiliency, creativity, and purpose,” she said. “I’ve seen bravery as teens have made new friends. I’ve seen resiliency in the willingness to join a virtual coding club with librarians who are not computer programmers. I’ve seen creativity in finding ways to translate their passions into unique programming projects. Finally, I’ve seen purpose in teens seeking ways to make Girls Who Code a more inclusive space, regardless of gender.”
This session of Girls Who Code ends December 6. But, new members are always welcome, and Sophia and Gracie said they couldn’t recommend it enough –– even to people who think they might not be interested in computers.
“It’s just fun, and it gives you something to look forward to after school,” Sophia said. “I think more people should join.”
“And it’s free,” Gracie added.
Learn more about Girls Who Code or the Teen Advisory Board here.