LMS technology class gives girls a boost

"Photo: Anne Sankey, Langley Middle School's building technology support staffer, pulls apart Macintosh computers to show girls in an after-school technology course how a computer works from the inside.Matt Johnson / staff photoSplit open like a clam shell, a Macintosh Classic II desktop computer lies in pieces on a portable work table in a Langley Middle School computer lab. Standing around the disemboweled computer are about a dozen seventh and eighth grade girls, who watch with cringing wonder as Anne Sankey, the LMS technical support staffer, yanks memory cards out of the machine and casually hands them around to the students.Few of them have ever seen the insides of the sleek, beige computers they use almost daily to type assignments or research school subjects on the Internet. The looks on their faces clearly show they are worried about damaging silicon components they believed to be untouchable by anyone except for qualified computer repair people. But Sankey and LMS counselor Norma Jean Elgas want the girls to know that it is a good idea for anyone, especially young girls, to know how a computer's motherboard, daughter cards, and other components work.The female-oriented component names were not lost on the young audience or their counselor, all of whom giggled happily at their mention.That's why women should be in computers. It's a motherboard, not a fatherboard, Elgas said.This was the scene Tuesday in a pioneering after-school class at the middle school. Funded through a $10,000 grant from the ARISE Foundation, the class is for girls only and is meant to get them more interested in math, science, and technology. The class, which can teach up to 75 middle school girls per semester, has long been needed at the school, said Victoria Santos, one of the class's coordinators. Girls and women are heavily under-represented in science, math, and technology nationwide fields, both in school and in the working world. Schools around the United States are becoming aware of this fact, so LMS is not alone in offering its girls-only technology class. This is a big national trend and push, Santos said.During the first quarter of this school year, only 29 of the 113 students enrolled in LMS computer, technology, and shop classes were girls. In technology classes alone, there was only one girl to every 21 boys in the classroom. In computer and shop classes, there were more than twice as many boys as girls.While some may not see the disparity as important for girls of middle school age, the wide science and technology gap between girls and boys at this level translates to lower incomes and less opportunity for women entering the workforce, Santos said. Citing a prospectus written for a similar, all-girls computer class for a Silicon Valley middle school, Santos said girls interested in science and technology have to swim hard upstream to fulfill their educational and professional goals. According to the prospectus, girls socialize in ways that prevent them from developing an interest in science and technology. Girls tend not to get an early introduction to computer technology as boys do through video games, nor do they get the same amount of attention in the classrooms as boys do. As they get older, girls and women tend to live lives based on feminine constraint, Santos said, which, among other things, pushes them to be smart, but not too smart.With these facts in mind, the goal of the class is hardly as complex as the inside of a disk drive.(It is) to let them see role models of women who are competent, self-reliant, and who still have families, Santos said.Sankey and LMS's other tech support person, Jodi Nelson, are role models of the type young girls interested in science and technology need. Responding to an in-class question from one of the girls Tuesday, Sankey said it is unusual for the school to have not one, but two women doing its computer technical support. Santos said she and Elgas are looking for more women like Sankey and Nelson to help set up a mentoring program for girls interested in learning about where science, technology, and math can take them professionally.Throughout the rest of the year, the class will expose girl students to a number of scientific and technological fields. In addition to working on Web pages and probing the interiors of computers, the girls in the class will attend a conference at Ballard Community College titled Expanding Your Horizons through Math and Science. The conference will present research on the human brain, astronomy, electronics, and more than a dozen other subjects. During March, which is Women in History Month, the class will host impersonators depicting women who have spurred historical advances and science and technology.Last week, during the two days primatologist Jane Goodall was on South Whidbey, several LMS girls were able to spend most of a day with the renouned scientist. Jackie Ballog was one of those girls. She said Goodall could not have chosen a better group with which to share her environmental message.Because she knows kids get more interested in things and stick to it, Ballog said.Ballog is certainly one to get interested in things. While waiting for her father to pick her up after Tuesday's class, she spent about 15 minutes trying to disassemble a damaged floppy disk drive. Kaitlin Gauntt watched her classmate work on the drive with a look that seemed to say she and her classmates have much to learn this semester.I think everything's interesting in its own way, Gauntt said.Throughout the semester, the girls will work on final projects for the class. The format for the projects is wide open and could include anything from giving a historical presentation on Marie Curie's work with radioactivity to building a PC from spare parts. Eighth grader Skye Simmons already has an idea for her project.I like building Web pages, Simmons said.The 15 girls who attend the technology class regularly were chosen based on recommendations from teachers. However, the class will involve at least 60 more girls in its field trips, presentations and other special programs.Be a professional mentor for a girlLangley Middle School is looking for women in professional careers willing to mentor sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls. To volunteer as a mentor, call Victoria Santos or Norma Jean Elgas at the Langley Middle School. The phone number is 221-5100."

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