This week, a dozen teenage girls filed into the Code Girls United classroom – a space they’ve spent many evenings in as a team over the past three months. Normally, the girls would open their laptops, hunker down, and delve into their coding work. However, this particular evening, the class had a different agenda.
“This is where all of the magic happens,” software engineer and volunteer instructor Amy Moore said. “Where we teach software that’s being used in the corporate world today.”
Moore was addressing a room full of proud parents watching attentively from the back rows, as well as Kalispell Police Chief Jordan Venezio, who sat up front, pen and notepad in hand. Projected on the front screen was the Kalispell Police Department logo emblazoned on the homepage of an app that Moore’s class was preparing to unveil in front of the eager audience.
After assuming the role of chief of police this summer, Venezio approached Code Girls United with an idea for a collaboration – he asked the advanced class to create an app that helps the police department more effectively manage its vehicle fleet.
“For me, these types of partnerships between the community and law enforcement are important,” Venezio said. “It’s important for us to be able to tap into our local resources. The department benefits, taxpayers get a huge benefit, and these girls, I hope, also benefit from interacting with us, learning about our police department, and growing their futures.”
Venezio said an overhaul of the old-fashioned vehicle tracking system was long overdue. Currently, the police department tracks its patrol vehicles manually using pen and paper, making it challenging for administrators to get up-to-date information about what police cars are out in the field, available for use, or in the shop for repairs. Further, without technology to organize maintenance records, some vehicles fall between the cracks for necessary equipment checks.
After the Code Girls advanced class agreed to take on this project, Venezio invited the students to shadow officers to learn about the police department’s on-the-ground work and see firsthand the difficulties of vehicle logistics management. Two students – Isabelle Ashley and Makayla Davenport – represented the group at the station and shared their experience with the team as the squad embarked upon designing the app.
“I loved actually making something that’s going to be used in the real world,” Ashley and Davenport said together at the demonstration.
The team’s main focus was streamlining day-to-day vehicle operations. Their app created an easy system for officers to check vehicles in and out and provides administrators with a color-coded overview of the fleet to help them track each vehicle’s status as available, under repair, or decommissioned. The app’s checklist-style tool kit also guides officers through daily inspections, helps them properly document damages, and allows administrators to view past vehicle data.
Moore’s demonstration took viewers through each page of this app. She has been working with the girls since the beginning of the project and emphasized how they used visual cues and timestamps to make the app easy to use.
“We’ve only put 10 weeks of work into this, so this is just version one,” Moore said during the presentation. “But version one looks pretty good.”
Venezio previously served as a school resource officer at Kalispell Middle School, where he learned of Code Girls United when they were founded in 2016. While he has always been supportive of their work, he said that the progress the students made after a few months was more than he ever expected. He hopes that the app can be rolled out by next summer.
“How user friendly the app is stood out the most,” Venezio said. “The students really heard us when they met with us and understood what we’re trying to accomplish. The notes that I made about things that I’d like to see tweaked are very small.”
During the presentation, Moore invited students to speak about their coding process, including some of the challenging aspects of complex software like Visual Studio Code, React Native, Expo Go, and GitHub. The girls also shared how they worked through their frustrations.
“At one point, our code wasn’t working at all and then we went back and deleted one space and it was totally fine,” Willow Truman explained. “Problem solved!”
The girls split up into teams to work on each page of the app. Code Girls United Executive Director Marianne Smith said the experience of presenting the app with all the pieces put together was an important learning experience – it helps the girls see the big picture of how different parts of code come together into a final product.
“Just learning this was incredible because I had no idea what was going on when we first started, but as we progressed I learned so much,” Katie Valentine shared with the audience.
Melissa Dunning, the fund development director with Code Girls United, said projects like this not only serve a community-wide purpose, but also provide evidence of just how far the organization has come since its founding, when Code Girls United launched as a small crew in the basement of Sykes Diner in Kalispell. Now, it has spread to teach 562 girls across the state.
“Not many girls have the opportunity to really be involved in tech, especially in Montana,” Dunning said. “Computer science is not a K-12 requirement, so our program creates this rare hands-on experience that provides them not only with education, but an experience that’s very empowering for girls in our community.”
Venezio said he’s grateful for the work that Code Girls put into the app and will be looking for future partnership opportunities.
“So much goes into the daily process for our officers to get out there and do our jobs,” Venezio said. “The ability to have this digitally so simply is so useful. I’m a little bit astonished. There’s not a day that will go by that our officers won’t use this app.”