Girls Who Code @ Russell Library: Dollar General Grant Winner

In the summer of 2017 the Russell Library in Middletown Connecticut, was accepted to participate in the national non-profit Girls Who Code©. Girls Who Code (GWC) partners with other groups, such as libraries, to prepare students for careers in technology fields by introducing computer programming. Starting in September 2017 the Russell Library offered its first GWC course for 20 weeks to a full class of 12 students and a waiting list! The popularity and the community’s positive response suggested that the library should offer the course again.

As a Teen Librarian with a MLS and no official Computer Science background, after the first session I realized I needed reinforcements. The YALSA/ Dollar General Grant fit the perfect spot to be able to offer the program again.  (*Side Note- GWC suggests a CS Degree or CS experience is not necessary; that anyone can run a GWC program with the tools and resources they provide.)

The initial impetus in searching for a grant was our robust teen volunteer program, which offers important job preparation skills to the teens of Middletown. Teens volunteer at the library all year long, with the majority of the hours in the summer. During the brainstorming process, the concept transformed from volunteers assisting in all Youth and Family Learning Summer Learning Programs to two interns for a specific program, GWC.

Due to the specialized skills that were needed to successfully complete the internship, the pool of applicants was significantly smaller. First, the interns needed to be able to work with and be comfortable instructing other teens. Second, they needed to have a somewhat advanced knowledge of coding and computer programming. Finally and most importantly, leadership skills, to mentor and guide the teens in the program.

Luckily, Middletown has four high schools: Middletown High School, Vinal Technical School, and two private schools, Mercy for girls and Xavier for boys. Targeted outreach was done all four schools: computer science teachers, guidance counselors, and the robotics teams. A total of 6 applicants were received, from all four of the high schools; with many more inquiries from those not qualified for the position. The final pair of interns were from Middletown High and Mercy High School.

Through the grant the library was able to have two more GWC sessions, one in July and August. With one 3 ½ hour session being an extended learning opportunity in robotics. Of which was possible because one of the interns is a member of the Mercy Tech Tigers, one of the two only all-female First Robotics© teams. The intern worked to schedule the team to come mentor and work with the students. The day included a demonstration of the competition robot, hands-on coding and engineering activities, along with a Q and A mentoring session.

Heather Scussell was hired as the first full-time Teen Librarian at the Russell Library in 2015. Since then, she has started various new programs for teens, including the Teen Volunteer Program and Girls Who Code Program.

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