August 20, 1999


Girl Power Helps Latinas Pursue Math, Science, and Technology

With cheers and excited eyes fixed toward the sky, a group of girls demonstrated their engineering talent by launching a series of homemade rockets that soared over the Hilltop Middle School campus in Chula Vista before miniature parachutes opened to gently return each to the ground.

The launches served as the culminating activity for the summer session of a special new program that's helping girls the majority of whom are Latina - strengthen their math, science and technology skills.

Girl Power, a program offered at all Sweetwater Union High School District middle and junior-high schools, engages girls (and interested boys) in cross-age tutoring, math/science/technology clubs, extra academic counseling, parent-participation events, gender-equity seminars, field trips to universities, and mentoring by successful women in the science and high-tech industries. Hands-on learning, like the activities in the summer session, is also key.

South County students spent afternoons five days a week this summer in classes held at the Bonita Vista, Hilltop, and Mar Vista Middle school campuses. In the summer "Explorations: program, they studied textbook theory, but also put their new knowledge to work constructing devices such as miniature hot air balloons, wooden bridges, and water-filtration systems.

Students say the lessons are a fun way to learn. Educators like Maite Rodriguez, who teaches at Granger Junior High in National City and spent the summer helping Girl Power students study robotics and forensics at Mar Vista Middle near Imperial Beach, say the activities carry particular importance for young Hispanic women.

"As Latinas, it's always the men making the mechanical repairs around the house and taking charge of any building projects," says Rodriguez.

This cultural attitude carries over to the classroom, where she observes Latinas -- unlike the other girls--typically handing over responsibility to their male peers.

"In the regular classes, once it comes to some kind of construction or hands-on project, they leave it to the boys," Rodriguez says. "But now Girl Power is making sure the girls do the work on their own, and when they create something for themselves, they develop greater interest in subjects like engineering."

Along with sparking enthusiasm in technical subjects like math and science, she also sees the girls develop great self-esteem as they discover their creativity and ability to solve tough problems. And motivated, confident students are more likely to pursue rigorous classes in high school and college that prepare them for high-paying science and technology careers.

For information on enrolling students in the program, call the Girl Power office at 691-5415

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