Opening Doors: Nevada County teen teaches peers to code (Kids These Days – VIDEO) |

Opening Doors: Nevada County teen teaches peers to code (Kids These Days – VIDEO)

Emily Lavin
Staff Writer
Dylan Coray, left, and Rowan Knox create an android app while Thea Pelayo looks on. Pelayo, 13, is teaching a week-long coding class for students in grades 5 - 12.
Emily Lavin/ |

When Thea Pelayo first volunteered to teach a weeklong class on building Android applications to middle and high school students, she was nervous.

After all, at 13 years old, there was a good chance Pelayo would be younger than some of the students she’d be teaching.

Her initial thought, Pelayo said, was, “Wait. I have no experience for teaching a class. I don’t know how this is going to work.”

By Tuesday, the class’s second day, Pelayo seemed anything but nervous as she circulated the computer lab at Bitney College Preparatory High School, checking in on the 11 students in the room and offering tips as they worked on their projects.

“I’m actually helping people learn how to do this. And it’s a good feeling.”Thea Pelayo

Teaching the class, she said, turned out to be exciting.

“I’m actually helping people learn how to do this,” Pelayo said. “And it’s a good feeling.”

Pelayo, who will be a freshman at Nevada Union High School in the fall, is leading “Learn How to Code and Make Apps!” for Nevada County 5th-12th graders through the end of this week. Each day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the students, who attend a variety of local schools, meet at Bitney to undertake different exercises in app design. The five-day intensive is sponsored by the Nevada County chapter of Girls Who Code, which launched last spring.

Pelayo participated in that 20-week Girls Who Code session, learning basic programming languages and fundamental web design. But that wasn’t her introduction into computer science. As a seventh-grader, Pelayo participated in the Tech Trek program at the University of California, Davis, a science and math program for middle-school girls. Last summer, she joined the ACME Robotics team, a local student group that competes in robotics competitions designed to test their computer programming, engineering and teamwork skills.

The idea to hold a local summer coding class developed during the Nevada County STEAM Expo, which took place in March. The Nevada County chapter of Girls Who Code had a booth at the festival, and several of the girls in the group showed up to hang out at the booth, said Cindy Zuelsdorf, one of the coordinators of the local club.

During conversations that day, it was clear there was a demand for some kind of summer class, and Pelayo stepped forward to teach it.

Zuelsdorf said that’s exactly what those involved with the local Girls Who Code club hope the program will do — give girls the confidence to pursue their own goals in computer science, and inspire others to do the same.

“We wanted to have doors open so girls could at least see the door and know it was there,” Zuelsdorf said. “Thea walked right through the door.”

When Pelayo was designing the weeklong class, she decided she didn’t want to restrict it exclusively to girls, because she wanted both boys and students who might identify as gender-neutral to feel comfortable signing up.

And though she enjoyed her experience in Girls Who Code, she decided she wanted the week to focus less on learning JavaScript, which she noted is an important but intense language to learn, and more on app design.

She thought she “would have more fun and people would have more fun doing this than kind of trying to memorize everything in JavaScript,” she said.

By Tuesday, the students in Pelayo’s class were already deep into the world of app design.

Twelve-year-old Rowan Knox showed off an app she built that allows the user to draw on top of a photograph, and then save that photo to their device.

“I like the fact that you can take random words and put them together so they do something awesome,” she said of her interest in coding.

For instance, she said, showing off one of her photos, “you can draw a top hat on a guinea pig and you programmed the entire thing yourself.”

Knox, who attends Sierra Montessori Academy, said she liked having Pelayo as a teacher — most of the other science groups she’s attended have been taught by men, Knox noted.

“I’ve also heard there are a small amount of girl coders,” Knox said. “It’s kind of cool that other girls are out there teaching and learning that stuff.”

Pelayo said that although girls have “been given the short end of the stick” in computer science and engineering fields in the past, she believes that’s changing.

When it comes to girls pursuing careers in those fields, the attitude is shifting away from, “You’re a girl, you can’t do this,” to “Hey, you’re a girl, you should come do this!” Pelayo said.

She noted how influential participating in Tech Trek and Girls Who Code has been for her. Now, she said, she wants to continue to open doors into the tech world for other girls.

“I’ve been given so many opportunities that I’m so excited for other people to get opportunities like that,” Pelayo said. “I want to somehow help do that.”

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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