Erin Schmidt,

Nov. 9, 2005 - Sharelle Johnson loves Fridays. After school she hangs with her friends and snacks on tasty treats. For the seventh-grader, there is nowhere else she would rather be than TechGYRLS.

The after-school program is sponsored by the YWCA and has been running successfully at La Cima Middle School for more than a year.

"I think it's great," Johnson said from her computer.

This week she is working on a Lego project. She will construct an image and write step-by-step instructions for assembling the piece. Her friends then turn to assemble the same image using Johnson's directions.

It is a technical writing and reading exercise, said Cindy Rolewski, technology teacher and advisor for TechGYRLS.

TechGYRLS began as a nationwide program in 1997. It was originated by the YWCA in response to the growing gender gap in the world of technology. The program is used to encourage girls to pursue careers in technology and engineering.

In Tucson, La Cima, within the Amphitheater Public School District, Naylor Middle School and Menlo Park Elementary School in the Tucson Unified School District, and Octotillo Elementary School in the Sunnyside School District all participate in the TechGYRLS program, said Lisa Winton, YWCA director for girl's programs.

Winton started the Tucson chapter of the program in 2002. The free after-school program is opened to any interested girl. The YWCA foots the bill for the cost of the program.

Many of the sites are seeing success because students who are often involved in the program don't have personal computers at home to practice and develop skills, Winton said. At TechGYRLS the students can learn to keep an online journal, work with word processing software and various computer programs.

"It helps with everything, from keyboarding to problem solving to using the Internet," she said.

It is planting the seeds for further interest in a field that women often are not encouraged to pursue, she said.

"Things that prepare them for later success," she said, is taught during TechGYRLS.

The all-girl environment is what encouraged Hollie Pallanes to join the program.

The 12-year-old has no computer at home and decided she wanted to learn tools she can use during school. Being with her friends was also a draw, she said.

"I learned that we can do anything a guy can do," she said.

Too often boys at the middle school try to out-do the girls during class, Pallanes said. That intimidates her and her friends, so she doesn't want to participate as often. During TechGYRLS, she doesn't have that problem.

"I'm doing something I like to do," she said.

More than 17 students participate in the program at La Cima Middle School.

"The fact that they stay here until 5:15 p.m. on a Friday is amazing," Rolewski said.

It shows real initiative to learn, she said.

She has been successful in a career teaching technology for the last 15 years. She wants to encourage her students to look into a field that is challenging and rewarding.

"We assume that kids all have technology, but they don't," she said.

At a recent Tech-GYRLS meeting, she was surprised at how many of the girls didn't know what an e-mail was, let alone how to send one, she said.

The girls were so happy when they could send e-mails back and forth to each other, she said. Now the students are working on designing word processing documents and will soon begin a Lego computer-programming project.

"Get the girls interested in some technology and science," Rolewski said. "It's my passion."

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