I first met Gretchen LeGrand when our children attended preschool together. She definitely struck me as one of those super cool, down to earth moms with a great sense of humor and natural empathy. I was not at surprised to learn that her first calling was as a in-house psychotherapist.. She has a welcoming smile and an easy demeanor that immediately puts you at ease and makes you want to spill your guts to her for hours!
It is also not surprising to learn that her new venture still involves helping people – but much younger people and in a completely different way.
Gretchen is the Executive Director and co-founder of Code in the Schools, a non-profit that provides free computer science classes to underserved populations at Baltimore City Schools. Their mission? One that matters. “By helping youth develop the skills increasingly in demand by business, we prepare them for jobs that support families and lead to well-paying careers. At the same time, we are building a competitive local labor force that will increase the city’s position as an innovation hub and attract more businesses, ensuring a prosperous future for all Baltimoreans.”
My own daughter loves coding, so this venture piqued my interest. I wanted to speak with her, learn more about what led her to this still predominantly male field, and find out more about this wonderful opportunity for kids in our city. So we met for coffee (well, chai for me and tea for her).
Gretchen grew up during the time that at home personal computers became more prevalent. Her father, a ‘computer guy,’ taught her everything she needed to know about them and instilled in her a lifelong love for all things desktop. When she married Mike, a video game developer, she learned more than just the basics and began to code.
Code in the Schools was actually the brainchild of Mike. He wanted the opportunity to teach the kids who might not have access to the kind of education that prepares them for this constantly evolving field. After taking a trip to the city offices to set up a non-profit, Code in the Schools was born. As the company grew larger, it became apparent that it was going to be a full time job and Gretchen left her career working with Medicaid patients to take on the challenge.
With the help of grant funding, Code in the Schools offers in-school classes at 6 schools in Baltimore City (primarily elementary level), as well as after school and summer programs for older students. They have a staff of eight part-time and full-time teachers, along with a five person administrative team. They teach coding, web development, robotics and, for the high school students, they include soft skills that will help them in all facets of their post-high school lives.They are currently focusing their efforts on expanding professional development and teacher training. All of their offerings are free to the schools who have requested partnership with them.
Code in the Schools hosts several big events throughout the year such as a Game Jam, Hackathons, and programs for girls to learn coding. They always welcome volunteers at the events and are looking for volunteers who would be willing to do online chats with students who have computer or coding-related questions. Sometimes her kids will join at the events and help. (Her oldest likes to assist with squishy circuit class) But Gretchen is the first to recognize her kids have interests that lie elsewhere and don’t actually spend much time on the computer in their downtime.
Gretchen’s work days are spent writing grants, meeting with school officials and putting out office fires. In her spare time, she built the website for Baltimore Women United. Somehow she still has the energy to co-lead her eight-year-old daughter’s Brownie troop, coach her five-year-old son’s soccer team, cuddle her one-year-old baby, and attend approximately five birthday parties every weekend. In the summer, her family will often have dinner at the neighborhood pool where her two older children compete on the swim team.
How is she able to do it all? Well, there might be too many pizza nights for her liking and maybe her house isn’t pristine, but she prioritizes the work she is doing helping others and spending time with her family over all else.
Photos by Laura Black.
Should we have coffee? Coffee with is a series on (cool) progeny that highlights moms in Baltimore doing (cool) things. Know a mom we should have coffee with? Email Heather at hello AT coolprogeny.com.