St. Mary's Acad. (Downtown)
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St. Mary's Academy freshman Jordan Bontemps tries coding.
St. Mary's Academy freshman Jordan Bontemps tries coding.
St. Mary's Academy cracks the code; introduces young women to computer coding (Photo) - 12/10/14
Portland, Ore. - Young women are taking an interest in technology in impressive numbers at St. Mary's Academy. On December 8 and 10, students learned and experienced computer coding as part of the Hour of Code. The Hour of Code is a global effort to expose students to the basics of computer coding through the use of games, apps and other hands-on activities. In particular, the Hour of Code aims to increase the participation of young women and minorities in technology career fields. Organized by Code.org and supported by some of the biggest names in the technology industry, the Hour of Code reaches tens of millions of students in more than 170 countries.

St. Mary's Academy faculty member and Tech Club advisor Mike Bedney led St. Mary's students in two 60-minute introductory coding sessions held at the school. Volunteers from Intel were also on-site to answer questions. Increasing the number of women in technology has been a major initiative of Intel and the Intel employee-volunteers aimed to spark an interest in technology among the young women at the Hour of Code and lower the barrier to entry into the technology field.

"We're interested in breaking down the barriers of what people think technology is. We want to change the perception of computer science. We don't just want these girls to use technology, we want them to make it," said Bedney.

Students used application-based coding programs such as Lightbot and Tynker, which were already loaded onto their school-issued iPads. Code with Anna & Elsa, a web-based tutorial based on Disney's "Frozen," allowed students to work in pairs. Prior to the Hour of Code, student volunteers tested several applications and tutorials, then provided recommendations of the most helpful programs for participants to use.

For many of the young women who participated, the Hour of Code was the first time they had written code or considered computer science to be accessible. For others, programming and computer science is seen as a future career. Participating in this event helped students explore their passion for technology and their desire to change stereotypes about women in the technology industry.

"I joined Tech Club and participated in the Hour of Code to change ideas about who can create technology and have a career in computer science," said Chloe Elliott, St. Mary's Academy senior and Tech Club leader. "When people envision who owns and creates technology it's always men. I want people to see that technology is for everyone, especially women. Anybody can learn. You don't have to fit into a certain stereotype."

In spring of 2015, St. Mary's Academy will expand its computer science and technology curriculum by piloting an "Introduction to Computer Science" course, taught by Bedney. Offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors, the class will expose students to the wide field of computer science, including robotics.

"I think that this class will serve as a place for the students to jump off into whatever technology fields they want to continue to explore. I want to give them the baseline tools to apply to wherever their interests lie in technology," said Bedney.

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St. Mary's Academy is a Catholic high school for young women located in the heart of downtown Portland that provides a challenging college-preparatory education with a focus on developing the whole person. Founded in 1859 by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, St. Mary's Academy is Oregon's oldest continuously operating secondary school and offers a supportive learning environment to a diverse student body from more than 35 cities in urban, suburban and rural Oregon and Southwest Washington. For more information about St. Mary's Academy, please visit www.stmaryspdx.org.