Ava Dugger, Meredith Simerly (Facilitator), Kennedy Grace Simerly, Allison Santos

Students at Jonesborough Elementary are closing the gender gap in technology by changing what a computer programmer looks like.

“This is Jonesborough Elementary School’s first Girls Who Code Club,” said Mary Foister, sponsor of the club. “This has really just taken off this year. We have had such a fantastic response and support from the JES administration, parents, and teachers.”

Foister added that the idea to start a Girls Who Code club at JES was sparked by a colleague at a TASL (Tennessee Association of School Librarians) Conference.

“She and I had previously discussed how I implemented coding and STEM into my curriculum in grades K-4 and thought the GWC Club would be a good fit,” Foister explained. “I presented the idea of starting a Girls Who Code club to my principal, Mr. Combs, who was very supportive of the idea.”

According to Foister the idea to start the club was a little daunting in the beginning.

“I was apprehensive at first. Would anyone be interested? What if their knowledge base of coding was more than mine? How could I support them? The response was overwhelming. Within two weeks of presenting the idea to third and fourth grade girls, 26 girls had joined,” she noted. “Due to space constraints, we also had to start a waiting list. With such a large group, I enlisted the support of a fellow teacher, Meredith Simerly. And yes, some of the girls’ knowledge base is advanced (some more than mine) but that hasn’t stopped them from exploring and being mentors for the other girls.”

The club meets once a week after school for an hour and according to Foister, the meetings generally consist of a sisterhood activity – along with coding fundamentals of course.

“Programming fundamentals (looping, variables, conditionals, functions, etc.), a spotlight on inspiring women in technology with guided activities, and self-directed learning (individual projects),” she said. “While the girls may learn independently on building their skills, they solve problems together and teach others by explaining how to solve something and how they went about it. That is very motivating for how computer science is applied in the real world.”

Though there are many aspects of the Girls Who Code Club that Foister enjoys, she said her favorite is watching the girls build relationships and confidence and become leaders.

“I hope the girls find the club environment to be a place of teamwork, support, creativity, and exploration,” she said. “I want the girls to really start dreaming of why they would want to code and how they can apply programming to their interests.


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