Weekend camp empowers girls to learn to code

Lessons on resourcefulness and the power of self-motivation are led by Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Code Fever. Photo credit: Jenna Buehler. 

Girl power was a theme at this past Saturday’s Code Fever event. Students learned how to write a pitch for an idea, basic HTML and CSS, and attended a panel of Miami-based code specialists.

On Saturday, The LAB Miami — the co-working hotspot in Wynwood — became an entrepreneurial wonderland for young girls. More than 29 students participated in a one-day coding event hosted by Code Fever and Codella. The event served as a free introduction to coding for kids and their parents, and as a celebration for 15 girls from Centro Mater who just completed a six-week summer camp with Codella.

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“We believe that code serves as a tool to empower students,” said Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Code Fever, which recently received support to expand from Knight Foundation. “More than that, we believe that you can’t teach code without also working individually on each student’s confidence in themselves.”

Hatcher said that since Code Fever’s launch last year she has witnessed a need to provide young girls and minorities with examples of how coding is a skill that is within their reach, providing a real career trajectory.

As an example, while speaking to the group she dangles a $5 bill in the air and asks who wants it. She repeatedly asks “Who wants five $5?” for a little over a minute until, finally, a young girl gets out of her seat and takes the bill from her hand.

The philosophy, she says, is to get rid of the “mind junk” —  the idea that just because something does not seem possible doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

“When you give students a skill to vertically integrate into society — skills that make a whole nation’s talent pool more competitive — you build better communities,” Hatcher said.

Many mothers and daughters helped to scale the model at last Saturday’s event. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, co-founder of Codella,  brought her daughter Juliet to the event to help further develop her website.

“It’s a [beta] pet site where you can feed [animated] pets and shop for clothes for them,” Juliet, 9, said. “Sometimes I get frustrated when I can’t get the codes right but my mommy just tells me to be patient.”

Woolery-Lloyd said that women are underrepresented in the coding conversation in the same way that women were underrepresented in the field of medicine when she graduated in 1994. She said it’s important to find opportunities to break those social barriers early.

“Kids who are digital natives get websites and iPads, but they don’t get that there is someone behind the site making it possible,” she said. “For some, this will be their first exposure to coders and women who code.”

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Heather Woolery-Lloyd and her daughter, Juliet, write HTML code together as part of the Code Fever event (left). Sandra Maler attends a coding panel session led by her daughter, Maia (right).

Sandra Maler is another mother in the crowd who is excited to see her daughter embrace technology. She too used coding computers, back when they were as big as the The LAB’s warehouse location, and says women in the field have also come a long way. She said she was the first female systems analyst to graduate from the University of Miami in 1974.

Maler’s 17-year-old daughter, Maia, was the code instructor for Codella’s six-week summer camp. Maia received the opportunity as a result of the “Study Tools” website that she built when she was in middle school.

“It helped everyone in the class to exchange notes and upload the teachers notes, too,” said Maia, a senior at Palmer Trinity School, who plans to continue to work with Codella as they expand the immersion program.

Following a pitch session, some hands-on exercises, pizza and popsicles, coders were introduced to Daniel Lafuente, co-founder of The LAB Miami and Codella.

“My first-ever business was a mango smoothie business,” he said during the panel discussion. “I was probably 9 when I wrote my first business plans to start an ice cream shop.”

LaFuente spoke about the importance of setting goals, for businesses. He told the kids about his early failures and dream of developing a space for entrepreneurs to collaborate and launch successful businesses.

Tiny painted fingernails typed on computer keys throughout the rest of the afternoon, as the beta versions of cookie apps and puppy websites neared completion.

The organizers say this is just the beginning for women’s empowerment camps like this one. Code Fever will host another introductory session at the South Florida Youth Summit this Sept. 5. Codella plans to launch an eight-week immersion for young girls at Centro Matter next summer.

“This is about offering mentorship to kids,” Hatcher said, “opening their minds and surrounding them with people who was them to succeed.”

Jenna Buehler is a Miami-based freelance writer.

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