Our UKSD high school mentors have spent a great deal of their time delving into what it means to feel empowered as a young woman. Something they unanimously felt was that there were so many adversities which could be helped or alleviated altogether if they had been exposed to necessary discussions. With this feeling in mind, they came together to create this Girls4Girls program.
They wanted to find a way to connect to the younger girls within our school district and begin to discuss ideas such as the importance of self worth, what it means to be a productive community member, the importance of making smart choices, how to self advocate, etc.
The high school mentors felt that a combination of activities, reading, and whole group discussion could be an avenue to begin these conversations and start to construct positive relationships. We worked collectively to come up with a program design that would be accessible to all participants. After reaching out to the Barnstable Innovation School, we learned that they had an after school program for second and third graders that would be perfect for us to partner with. We spoke with the director of the program and agreed that an hour would be the perfect amount of time to keep the younger girls engaged after a long day at school while also getting to do our various activities.
At the beginning of the afternoon, we started with an opener where both the younger and older girls each expressed something about themselves that they loved or that made them unique. As we stood together and went around the circle, others would take a step inward if they also enjoyed that piece of themselves. We heard comments such as , “I love my freckles, I love my big hair, I love that I love to read, I love spending time with my mom, etc”. One can imagine what it felt like to see girls ranging in age from 7-19 begin to move inward, towards one another, as they began to recognize these pieces of themselves and of each other.
For the next piece of our activity, we broke off into groups consisting of 3-4 high school girls and 3-4 elementary school girls. Our high school groups had been predetermined, as each group had chosen the piece of children’s literature they were going to be reading and discussing. They practiced reading each piece and thinking about the discussions they might have. As groups began to break off and find space, we made sure that everyone felt comfortable and safe within their group. Something we made sure of was to have high school mentors in the group who speak Portuguese, Spanish, and Patois. It was imperative for us to be sure that each child felt valued and heard. We immediately began to see girls helping one another translate and begin the activity.There was pure magic when elementary girls both born on Cape Cod and who have just moved here were able to participate.
In the groups, the girls read and discussed the theme of female empowerment in children’s texts such as Malala’s Magic Pencil, The Water Princess, Dear Girl, Be Kind, The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, and I Am Enough. The elementary students then created mini-presentations to share with the group what they learned or took away. We simultaneously discussed these valuable life lessons while also encouraging and fostering leadership and presentation skills.
As the younger girls presented, our high school mentors gently encouraged them and helped translate if needed. When each group was finished, the room was filled with a genuine applause and a recognition of everyone’s hard work and their bravery to speak in front of the group. This program proved to be invaluable to all involved.
The energy in the room moved in a way that bonded the younger girls to the high school girls. Each and every girl and educator left with a renewed sense of how important it is to promote the empowerment, growth, and social and emotional health of our girls. We can’t wait to continue this work and see where these types of partnerships take us.