Fulton computer club introduces girls to coding

For Fulton Elementary fifth-grader Sabrina Ventoso, coding is a way to express her creativity.

In her most recent creation, a white horse with a blue mane runs through a plain before leaping over a cliff safely.

While Sabrina says there is no meaning behind her short video, except that she loves horses, the programming allows her to explore.

"I like that whatever you imagine, you can make it," she said of coding.

Sabrina is one of 22 girl students who participated in a computer programming club at Fulton Elementary School this spring, the first time such a club has been offered at the school.

Sessions focused on binary code, computational thinking, efficiency with code, loops and conditionals, functions, programming Lego mindstorm robots, and online scratch programs.

What started as a small group of girls learning about computer programming in the home of a Fulton Elementary parent so they could better understand what their parents did at their jobs has expanded. And it appears as though it might expand even more.

The club has been so successful that Clair Wise, a gifted and talented resource teacher at Fulton, is considering offering eight-week sessions throughout the school year because the first year has been "really wonderful.".

While the topic is something that is new to most girls and above and beyond their normal course work, Wise said the enthusiasm has been strong.

Each session begins with a guest speaker, a woman currently working in the field, before students delve into programming on sites, such as scratch.mit.edu, code.org, or csunplugged.org.

"We want them to not be afraid to pursue it," Wise said of the program's goals.

Although Wise has been the teacher organizing the Fulton program, she is quick to point out that the program was pitched to her by parents Lisa Schlossnagle and Katie Egan.

Before forming the club at Fulton, Schlossnagle had been teaching her three daughters and their friends how to code through online curriculum over the past year.

It eventually grew to 15 to 18 girls coming over twice a month, Schlossnagle said.

Schlossnagle's husband, Theo, is the founder of OmniTI computer consulting in Maple Lawn, which has sent some of its employees to speak with the girls in Fulton's computer programming club and invited them to visit their offices.

Schlossnagle and Egan said their intentions in starting the club were to give the girls confidence in a field largely dominated by boys.

"I think we all want them to have that option and be successful," Egan said.

After hosting the girls for coding sessions in her home the past few years, Schlossnagle said the girls remain engaged each week.

"Their growth is tremendous," Schlossnagle said.

Schlossnagle and Egan are kicking around the idea of pitching a summer camp or a middle school program so the girls can continue with programming outside of school

Muftiat Ogunsanya, a senior at Reservoir High School, has been volunteering with the club throughout the past seven weeks because she wanted to help other girls become familiar with computer programming.

Ogunsanya acknowledged that in some of her classes, she has been the only girl or only one of two girls in the class.

"They know a lot more than I did in third grade," she said of the students' progress.

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