leadership institute
Leadership Institute preview: Latina Girls Code Executive Director Stephanie Castillo

As executive director of Latina Girls Code, Stephanie Castillo works to bridge and eliminate the diversity gap for girls, specifically Latinas, interested in entering the tech world. California School News asked Castillo to share her perspective on the importance of opportunity and access to the tech fields for all students ahead of her appearance at CSBA’s Leadership Institute, July 13–14.

Tell us about the mission and vision of your organization.
The mission of Latina Girls Code is to provide computer programming classes and resources for underrepresented groups, especially girls ages 7–17. Our vision is to improve the ratio of women in tech and leadership positions, and we hope to cultivate confident and courageous leaders that will put humanity and ecology at the core of their technological initiatives. Latina Girls Code was created to bridge the diversity gap in tech. Our motto is: Educate. Engage. Empower.
Why is it important to increase opportunities and target support in the STEM fields to specific groups of students?
The reality is that our girls are facing challenges that traditional STEM organizations simply can’t provide. What these girls need in order to feel safe and secure is a leader or mentor who advocates for them in more than just the educational sector. LGC has always been more than just a coding organization; we unearth history, beliefs, practices and knowledge that guide our programs and technological efforts. We achieve a single and vital goal: elevating the voices of youth from marginalized communities. The reality is that for many children and adults, access to computers and internet remains a barrier to cultivating a career in tech. The lack of digital literacy has perpetuated the fact that people of color remain consumers, not producers. The digital divide is further exacerbated by poor math and science scores in underserved communities.
Why do you think computer science instruction is important for young people, whether they pursue a career in computer science or not?
Technology permeates every aspect of our lives. Computer science literacy is vital in order to meaningfully interact with the world. The internet is an incredibly democratizing space. In 2018, we have witnessed how technology has disrupted and rendered many industries obsolete. Understanding fundamental concepts in computer science is necessary in order to advance economic, social and political policies. Additionally, as the artificial intelligence era approaches, society will need more than just intelligent coders. I imagine our society will want ethical, moral, humane and ecological people writing the algorithms that will transform our world.
In what other ways do you reach young people through your organization?
We love to partner with community centers. It’s a great opportunity to educate three generations in one building. A more recent example is our student, Liliana Martinez, created the first Youth Advocacy Summit in her hometown. She has invited speakers throughout the Chicagoland area to discuss STEM, policy, history, laws, violence, immigration and the criminal justice system. One of our priorities is highlighting girls in our community via social media to promote inclusion and representation. Finally, we have collaborated with other nonprofits to lobby at the State Capitol.
Stephanie Castillo
Founder and Executive Director of Latina Girls Code
What advice do you have for school board members who want to increase computer science instruction in their districts?
This is a difficult question because I primarily work with children in schools that lack the resources and opportunities to receive a high-quality education in computer science. In many of these schools, we have issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, language barriers, lack of nutritious foods, inadequate healthcare and a plethora of other issues. They are facing devastating situations when it comes to allocating resources for STEM programs. However, I would recommend that school board members reach out to organizations like LGC that will alleviate that burden. It also means giving students autonomy to create their own computer science clubs and programs. One of our students, Andrea Herrera, noticed the lack of computer science classes at her school and worked with one of her teachers to provide classes after school. I think it’s about practicing communal, collective and cooperative education practices. It’s also important to leverage free online sources.
Additional Leadership Institute speakers:

Kimberly Bryant, Founder and CEO, Black Girls CODE
Black Girls CODE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “changing the face of technology” by introducing girls of color to technology and computer science with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts. Bryant will join Castillo in a joint general session talk about the importance of providing opportunities and access to tech fields to underrepresented student groups.

Ann Miura-Ko, Co-founder, FLOODGATE
Ann Miura-Ko has been called “the most powerful woman in startups” by Forbes and is a lecturer on entrepreneurship at Stanford. FLOODGATE is a venture capital firm that specializes in identifying and investing in the next great technological company. Miura-Ko will share her thoughts on the need for STEM instruction to focus on conceptual understanding, the need for curriculum flexibility and the importance of the tech industry supporting instruction.