CODeLLA connects Latina girls and their families to future careers in tech

communities / Article

June 7, 2017 by Josie Goytisolo

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Photo courtesy of CODeLLA.

Josie Goytisolo is founder and CEO of CODeLLA, a technology entrepreneurship and coding immersion program for Latina girls ages 8-12. Today, Knight Foundation is announcing $100,000 in new support for CODeLLA over two years. 

We created CODeLLA in December 2013 to bridge the skills and opportunity gap experienced by underserved Latina middle school girls in our Miami community. Now, with new support from Knight Foundation, we’re looking forward to expanding our work and providing more girls with a foundational knowledge of coding, developing their ability to think critically and helping them work collaboratively to build apps and businesses that solve problems in their communities. CODeLLA’s third cohort—our eight-week summer immersive coding and entrepreneurship camp—starts at Centro Mater, a best practice community center in Little Havana on June 12.

More than 160 girls have gone through our program since its inception. Our goal is to inspire Latina students to enter science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Presently Latinas represent 3 percent of our nation’s STEM workforce.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there will be 1.1 million computing-related jobs by 2024, but, as of 2015, only 1 percent of those jobs were held by Latinas. Every company today is a technology company and the majority of jobs available in the next decade will require middle skills—more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree—to meaningfully engage professionally. Unfortunately, most of the families we work with don’t know this.

One in 4 female students attending public schools in America are Latina. However, a fourth of Latinas nationally live below the federal poverty level and more than half live at levels very close to poverty. The majority of the students who attend our camp and after-school activities live in the Little Havana area where approximately 43 percent of the residents live in poverty.

Our students have extremely limited access to 21st century learning opportunities during the school year and summer due to costs associated with specialized learning, a lack of courses offered in the middle schools they attend and a shortage of certified teachers to teach the coursework.

Our mostly Spanish-speaking immigrant parents need help navigating an educational landscape they are mostly unfamiliar with as well as mastering the tools they need to better engage with their children’s teachers. The families we serve are mostly disconnected from educational pathways and the skills, credentials and certifications their kids need to compete in a global workforce, or the scholarships and services that can help them get there.

Most of the families we work with do not have computers at home. Our soon-to-be-produced podcasts will educate and provide resources for underserved parents on 21st century skills, digital citizenship, and local, national and global emerging tech ecosystems and labor markets—and how to compete in them in a meaningful way.

We equip our students with a foundational competency in computer science that enhances their future STEM studies; we use research-based curriculums from organizations such as Common Sense Media and code.org. We have had several successes. We have grown CODeLLA outreach programs at two local Miami-Dade County public schools, Citrus Grove and Hialeah Gardens middle schools. We successfully produced a summer game design camp at Barry University and provided scholarships to 14 underserved middle school girls.

In November 2016, CODeLLA successfully produced the inaugural She Innovates Tech conference and app competition in partnership with the Center for Computational Science at the University of Miami with more than 400 girls from Title 1 schools in Miami-Dade County. It was the first conference of its kind in our community. More than 25 female founders of technology startups and more established companies, scientists and developers inspired the students. The event featured plenary sessions, interactive breakout sessions and an app showcase with the top six teams from local Miami-Dade County public middle schools who pitched their apps solving a problem in our community. The winning middle school team had their apps built out.

This summer our campers will again meet female founders, innovators, developers and engineers who look like them. Being culturally competent is critical to providing programming in a relevant way to our girls and their parents. The language we use, the selection of teachers who look like them and understand the environment the girls live in has been critical to our success.

Madelyn Llanes, executive director at Centro Mater, summed it up like this: “CODeLLA has been an extraordinary experience for our girls. Not only were they getting coding skills; they were also part of a collaborative team which created a sense of community and family. I have witnessed their growth throughout the camps and the conference. It has truly been an enlightening and rewarding experience for all of us at Centro Mater.”

For more about CODeLLA, visit codella.org, and follow @codellainnovate and @JosieGoytisolo on Twitter. 

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