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Des Moines attorney Victoria Herring wasn’t surprised to find a group of people in Greater Des Moines who love to create movies on iMac computers. However, she was surprised to find that it was a group of teenage girls who shared her interest.

Herring volunteers once a week with a program called Chrysalis After School at Goodrell Traditional Plus Magnet Middle School, where she helps a group of about 20 girls work on iMac’s iLife programs to create music and short movies, alter digital photos and more.

“It’s a pleasure to get away from law sometimes and work with young women on artistic things like creating these movies,” Herring said. “They’re such fast learners that they don’t need much help, but it’s been fun to be around and be like a fly on the wall when I’m not working one-on-one with them.”

Goodrell is one of 14 schools in Greater Des Moines that has a Chrysalis After School program. The Chrysalis Foundation, a women’s organization, selected the schools and provides each with $8,000 to use for the program. The foundation provides a curriculum that covers areas such as academics, life skills, volunteerism, health and women’s history, but each school has autonomy to design its program in such a way to best meet its students’ needs.

Language arts teacher Holly Welch is the facilitator for Goodrell’s program, which is called TechnoGirls. She decided to make iMac computers the backbone of the program after seeing kids take an interest in one she had borrowed to use in her classroom. Through a grant, Welch has been able to purchase enough iBook computers to so that each girl in the after-school program has one to work from. Each of the participants is currently working on a movie to tell their life stories.

“These kids sit down and are allowed to do what they can do and create,” Welch said. “They think of things that I’ve never thought of, and I’ve seen girls become leaders as they teach each other things as they learn them.”

Herring got involved with the TechnoGirls group through the request of a friend, Mary Riche, who is the president of the Chrysalis Foundation.

“Mary knew that I’ve been a longtime Mac user, and thought I could help Holly once they got them and try to keep them up and work with the kids,” Herring said. “I’m not having to do much techie tuff because they learned so quickly.”

Herring, who has two children of her own – a daughter in college and a son in high school – said she sees a great value in this program’s emphasis on getting girls involved in something meaningful. Although she said her family was lucky in that her daughter made it through the teenage years with little ado, she knows that girls are faced with many challenges during early adolescence and struggle with self-esteem.

“Those computers are giving kids a new creative outlet,” she said. “The thing about reaching young people with the arts is that I think art speaks to kids more than telling them to do something. These girls are learning that life is not just knowing your numbers and history, but developing some of the subtle things in ourselves.”

Welch said she had hoped that the TechnoGirls program would help minimize the disparity in technology usage that can develop between boys and girls in middle school, but she did not imagine how much impact the program would have on the girls’ development in other ways.

“The girls are doing better as a whole in school, and I’ve watched some of them develop into real leaders,” Welch said. “It’s as if they walk out of the room taller when they leave because of what they’ve been able to do. A lot of the kids are already planning to be in it next year.

“What I’ve found, through their movies, is that the films have become so touching, so emotional, so thought-provoking, in ways that I didn’t know that middle schoolers had it in them.”

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