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A hackathon for middle and high school students

NewtonHACKS cofounders (from left) Preethika Vemula, Noa Racin, Saakshi Challa, and Arshia Verma.
NewtonHACKS cofounders (from left) Preethika Vemula, Noa Racin, Saakshi Challa, and Arshia Verma.

In an effort to promote gender equality in the programming industry, four 10th-grade girls at Newton South High School created NewtonHACKS, which will host an online hackathon for middle and high school students from anywhere in the world.

“Girls are constantly discouraged because they aren’t that experienced in programming, and the competition is usually too high at hackathons for them to succeed,” said Saakshi Challa, 15, co-founder and executive director of NewtonHACKS.

According to ComputerScience.org, a website with information on computer science programs and careers, women earn 18 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees in the United States.

In addition to wanting to get girls more involved in programming, the group of high schoolers noticed the lack of opportunities for beginners after attending a hackathon in Boston.

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“We were beginner programmers, and it was really hard to ease into the event,” Challa said. “We came up with this idea to create a hackathon for not only girls but beginner programmers as well.”

Arshia Verma, 15, co-founder and director of planning for NewtonHACKS, said the most important goal is to “create a motivating community that doesn’t feel intimidating or out of place.”

“I have seen and experienced the lack of women in my programming class, mathematics class, and science classes. I have also attended numerous hackathons and have seen very few girls,” Verma said. “NewtonHACKS is welcoming all students who are working on their skills, are completely new to computer programming, or want something fun to do.”

The group has planned its first hackathon — a virtual event taking place on Zoom — for Aug. 29. It will include guest speakers, workshops, and access to experienced mentors to answer students’ questions.

“When COVID-19 struck, our plans were temporarily put on hold, but then we decided to expand our horizons and host an online hackathon, where we could have anyone who wished to participate join,” said Noa Racin, 15, co-founder and director of communication for NewtonHACKS.

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Middle and high school students can sign up for the virtual hackathon on the NewtonHACKS website, newtonhacks.com, without restrictions of gender or location.

Racin said the group hopes this is their last virtual hackathon, but if not they “would be more than happy” to continue with another virtual hackathon next year.

Ella Rose Morgan can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.