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'Build IT' program to expose middle school girls to science, technology

Glorimar Irizarry, Operation SMART Specialist, Dalia Robles, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coordinator, and Daisy Jimenez, Afterschool/Summer Program Director, all of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, are putting the final touches on a pilot project titled Build IT: Girls Building Information Technology Fluency Through Design. Reminder Publications photo by Lori Szepelak
By Lori Szepelak


HOLYOKE As brightly colored paper caterpillars and flowers shone through the ornate windows of Girls Inc. on Nick Cosmos Way on a recent weekday, organizers of a new pilot program were busy making final preparations for its implementation.

Girls Inc. of Holyoke has been selected to pilot a new national technology program titled "Build IT" for middle school girls which starts this summer. The local site was one of eight across the country and was chosen for its mix of key characteristics rural versus urban, school site versus Girls Inc. center site, full versus partial curriculum implementation, and the expected ease of including volunteer IT professionals in the program.

"We are really excited about the Build IT curriculum since it gives us an opportunity to offer hands-on training to girls in the area," Daisy Jimenez, Afterschool/Summer Program Director, said during an interview with Reminder Publications. Jimenez will oversee the implementation and evaluation of the Build IT curriculum.

Jimenez added that since Girls Inc. of Holyoke already has implemented Operation SMART (Science, Math, and Relevant Technology), a national Girls Inc. program, participation in Build IT will provide an expansion of the SMART programming.

Jimenez's dedicated staff includes Sarah Dunton, who will also oversee implementation and evaluation of the Build IT curriculum, and Glorimar Irizarry and Dalia Robles, who are both responsible for implementing the Build IT curriculum.

SRI International and Girls Incorporated of Alameda County (Girls Inc.) have collaborated to create and implement Build IT, an after school and summer youth-based curriculum for under served middle school girls (sixth, seventh and eighth grades) to develop IT (information technology) fluency, interest in mathematics, and knowledge of IT careers. The curriculum, professional development and assessment materials developed during this National Science Foundation funded three-year project will be portable to Girls Inc.'s 1,500 program sites that reach more than 600,000 girls annually.

Earlier this year, Jimenez and her team members participated in in-depth Build IT training which included ways to use technology to strengthen and build one's technology fluency, as well as how to encourage girls to explore and pursue information technology careers.

Build IT, a cornerstone of the national Girls Inc. Middle School Program, is a problem-based curriculum that capitalizes on girls' interest in design and communication technologies and incorporates performance tasks for IT fluency assessment. It provides structured interactions with IT professionals and graduate students, including having girls participate as design partners in the software engineering process. Build IT's use of the design process to achieve technology fluency will provide new insights for research on technology fluency and potential new contexts for research focused on learning STEM concepts through design.

Jimenez and her team will soon be recruiting girls ages nine to 16 for the pilot program which is slated as a two-week camp from July 21 - Aug. 1. During this first phase of the pilot program, 15 girls will participate, followed by 30 girls in the second phase of implementation which will be conducted between September 2008 and August 2009. National organizers would like to see the girls from the first phase also participate in the second phase of the pilot program.

"The focus will be to recruit the age group nine to 16 because these are the crucial ages in which girls begin to like or dislike science and math," Jimenez said.

Irizarry echoed Jimenez's comments, adding, "Girls can believe the sky is the limit and that girls can pursue a career in technology and design as well as acknowledge that there is no shame in liking math and science."

Jimenez explained that all potential candidates will be interviewed to determine their interest level, motivation and commitment and to identify any potential obstacles.

"All of these things will be considered in making the selection of candidates," she added.

Jimenez said businesses, organizations and individuals are also welcome to take part in the pilot program through a variety of avenues which range from designers and engineers volunteering their time to work with the girls, to businesses offering space or donating computers, an overhead projector or white screen that could be used for presentations.

Jimenez is also hopeful that a local organization might consider taking up a collection of backpacks, notebooks and pencils that the girls could use to keep all their materials together. T-shirts for the instructors and the girls would also be a plus, she added.

For more information on the pilot program, or how to make a donation, contact Jimenez at 538-7142. For more information on local Girls Inc. programs, visit

"We look forward to providing opportunities to girls to build on skills they have in technology or to help them learn computer science and math concepts," Jimenez said, adding, "we also look forward to making a connection between higher education and careers."