GIFT= Girls In Fun Technology

Wow–I can’t believe this is really happening or how quickly it is taking off. I have neglected my blog here while attending to class blogs and getting this GIFT program off the ground.

About a year ago, my daughter was bemoaning the fact that she was the only girl in the video class at our high school. I posted a couple of blog articles here about it and got some feedback from girls in one of Ray Davis‘ classes (thanks, Ray). Their answers about why they don’t get involved in technology classes at school was informative. I also tossed the idea out to the WOW2 blog and got a little bite there too. We talked about how cool it would be to have a club or a class for girls to introduce them to different areas of technology and let them build some confidence, explore some new things.

And that’s about as far as the idea got. Just a few discussions, and then it was shelved and forgotten.

About a month ago, a science teacher and I met with some people from GCC, the new cement plant in our area. They want to find ways to connect with the schools and collaborate to bring math and science classes some great hands-on opportunities. Toward the end of that meeting, one of the engineers, Gina, said something about wanting to find a way to get more girls interested in engineering fields.

“Oh yeah,” says I. “We had this idea about a year ago for a program called GIFT–Girls In Fun Technology. And we wanted to start a club or something for girls to get involved in….” Well, all the GCC people were out of their chairs, and for a minute, I thought Gina might kiss me. (just kidding…) They were so excited about the idea, and they have really helped drive this program into existence.

So here we are, a few weeks later, and it’s actually going to happen. Everyone we have talked to about this is totally excited and supportive. I can’t get over the enthusiasm. We have our kick-off scheduled for Oct. 19, and we are having all of the girls from our high school plus the 8th grade girls from the middle school there. We have been making contacts (each person I call has about 6 more people that I should call….this thing is snowballing…amazing!) and getting people from all over to commit to working with our girls. The overall plan is to meet one afternoon a week and have our partners/sponsors come and present information about all kinds of opportunities for the girls. They can get a chance to try out all different activities from technology, math, science, and engineering disciplines. That will run Oct. – Feb. Then for March, April, and the beginning of May, the girls will choose a particular field to explore more in depth. This will be more of a mentor situation, with the girls working on real-world, hands-on projects. Then we’ll have a huge celebration at the end of the year for the girls, parents, partners, and community.

It seems so simple, but, honestly, I alternate between excitement and panic about getting this up and running.

Last night, I was speaking with a friend who is an engineering professor at CSU-Pueblo, and he made the remark that many people would probably wonder why an English teacher is doing this. I told him that it was simple: I don’t want these girls growing up like I did, convincing themselves that they “can’t do” math and science.

No one ever came out and told me that I was bad at math or science or gave me any reason to think I was dumb, but I tell you what, by the time I was in 5th grade, I had convinced myself that only the “smart” kids were good at math and science, and that I wasn’t good at math and science, and therefore, I was dumb. Just give me a book to read or throw a spelling test my way–I’m all over that.

Middle school didn’t make it any better. I had only one science class–7th grade. I hated it. I was so psyched out that I made it miserable for myself. My next science class after that was biology when I was a freshman in college. That’s right–no science in high school for me. I’ll explain that later.

Before I started 8th grade, we were all tested to see if we should be placed in pre-algebra or 8th grade math. I was right on the border to go into pre-algebra, and I was so relieved when they said the class was too full and I would take regular 8th grade math. Even that was bad. (Again, no one ever told me I was no good at this…I just convinced myself.)

So high school….I took algebra my freshman year and geometry the next. I struggled through algebra, and I have no idea how I got through geometry. Honestly, I don’t think I learned a thing in that class. All we did was correct our homework from the night before (meaning we filled in the answers to our homework from the night before) and then were given the next assignment. It’s anybody’s guess how I got a decent grade. I still needed one more math credit my junior year, and I just couldn’t bear the thought of another math class. That was 1981, and our school was offering a basic computer programming class that year that would count for a math credit. SIGN ME UP! I could get a math credit and not have to do another math class–that was the ticket for me! It was challenging, but I’d take that over trig any day!

So now it was time for my senior year. All I needed to graduate were two P.E. credits (I hated gym even more than math or science!), one more elective, and one science credit. I already had 6 English credits in three years (we needed 4) and all the other classes I needed to graduate. I hated the thought of spending my senior year taking P.E. and Astronomy (the easiest science class I could find) just to graduate. I had accomplished the other goals I had set for myself in high school. I had already taken college-prep English and all of the performing arts classes (several times). Why should I stick around for that? It’s not like I was going to be the prom queen or something.

So we called the little Christian college in Nebraska that I wanted to attend, and asked if I could double up on my credits in the fall, graduate a semester early, and start college in January. They said, “Sure! What do you have left to take?” “Uh, well, P.E. and astronomy.” “You’re kidding, that’s it?” “Yup, that’s it.” “Don’t wait until January. Go get your G.E.D. and we’ll see you in three weeks.”

What? I’m going to college in three weeks? But I’m not quite 17 yet! Can I do that?

Well, we got all the paperwork started, and mom took me up to the high school so I could formally drop out. (Yep, kiddies, I’m a drop out.) The principal had a fit. How could I drop out? I was in the top-whatever percent of my class. I was a good student–all A’s and B’s.

Well, everything was set except for the G.E.D. testing. I had to wait until I was17 to take it, which was about a week and a half before college would be starting. The day after my birthday, I went up to the university to take the tests. There were 5 of them–reading, writing, grammar, math, and science. I was terrified of the math and science. tests. I knew that would blow it for me, and I wouldn’t be able to go to college. They wouldn’t let me take all 5 tests in one day, so I had to go back again. I finished early enough the second day that they let me take the last test. Then the grading…I was terrified when they graded the math and science. “Here we go….I’m not going to be able to go to college. I just know it. I’m dumb. I can’t do math and science.” and on, and on, and on….I just kept beating myself up about it.

To this day, I will never figure out how this happened, but it turned out that my highest score was in science (WHAT? How did THAT happen?) and my second highest score was in math. Okay, G.E.D. lady, what’s going on here? How could I possibly score higher in math and science than in language arts? Don’t you know I’m dumb? I can’t do math and science!

Fast forward a bit–I ended up in biology that first semester in college, and I was terrified. It helped that I had a truly wonderful professor, and I studied my butt off for that class. I received a 98% on my first test. (Yes, I still have that test tucked away somewhere.)

Well, at that time, York College offered only 2-year degrees, so I graduated with an Associate’s Degree when I was 18 years old. Of course, I was still convinced that I was dumb because I struggled through math and science.

It wasn’t until 2004, 20 years later, when I finished my Master’s Degree with a 4.0 GPA that I finally began to think that maybe I wasn’t so dumb after all.

I don’t want these girls to be 38 before they figure that out. I want them to know RIGHT NOW that they are smart, that they can do math, science, technology, and engineering.

And THAT is why an English teacher is doing this. I have to. I owe it to my daughter and all the other girls that I can reach.

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