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Solving for XX: Ridge schools encouraging girls in science

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Photo gallery

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Bots taught: Xaverian High School STEM Program Director Alex Alfredo shows student John Cashman how to program one of the school’s robots.
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Future of printing: John Cashman uses Xaverian’s 3D printer in high-level engineering classes. Girls will get to use the high-tech gizmo, too, when the school goes co-ed in 2016.
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New-school: Emily Nehme shows off a report she and her classmates compiled on the history, process, and applications of 3D printing.
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Hopping into science: Francesca Mavica sits next to a frog that her class created using Visitation Academy’s 3D printer.
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A tree prints in Brooklyn: Krista Midthassel shows off the first thing Visitation students made with their new 3D printer — a tree to accompany a project on designing bird houses using computer-assisted drafting software.
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Paper is passe: Lucia Alleca demonstrates how she digitally drafted the mock up for a birdhouse using SketchUp software.

Two Bay Ridge parochial schools are melting the glass ceiling and turning it into beakers.

Science students at all-girl middle school Visitation Academy are finishing their first semester using sophisticated computer-aided drafting software and a 3D printer, and boys-only Xaverian High School is gearing up its labs for an influx of new scientists when the school goes co-ed in 2016.

Visitation is already planning to buy a second printer and expand its Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, since more and more women will be needed in the science and technology workforce in coming years, despite facing strong headwinds, according to Visitation science teacher Mary Ann McGrath.

“Women will play a significant role in technology in the future,” McGrath said. “This is especially important knowing what opposition they’re going to face.”

Indeed, more women than ever are entering the biological and natural science workforce, but women’s share of the male-dominated field of engineering has actually shrunk in recent decades — due largely to pre-existing biases in the classroom and workplace, according to a study by the American Association for University Women.

Visitation’s program takes the gender element out of the equation.

“There are no boys in the classroom to dismiss them,” McGrath said.

The school began teaching technology classes in 2012, and educators incorporated computer design software and a 3D printer this year. The girls took to the gizmos like seasoned vets, McGrath said.

“When I first came in, I couldn’t run the 3D printer,” she said. “The girls showed me.”

And when the young scientists graduate from Visitation, they’ll be able to pick up their studies at Xaverian High School, which will begin accepting girls in 2016, and has a state-of-the-art technology lab — including a 3D printer, high-powered computers, and a wind tunnel for testing tensile strength, administrators said.

“Outside of the big name schools — Brooklyn Tech and Staten Island Tech — no one offers what we do on the level that we’re going to be doing it on,” said Alex Alfredo, director of the Xaverian’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program.

The school’s principal admitted that a male-dominated climate still hampers gender equality in the sciences, but he said that Xaverian will shed the boys-only identity it has embraced since its founding in 1957, in part to honor the institution’s religious calling.

“That era was one in which the whole culture said ‘women couldn’t do certain things,’ ” said Xaverian principal Deacon Kevin McCormack. “It’s a different time and place, and to say that girls can’t do certain things is not acceptable. As a religious school, we believe God calls everybody to be the best they can be.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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