It has taken me a few days to try and put the words together to reach out to you. I have drafted and re-drafted what I’ve wanted to say because emotions can often cloud the intention of words. I’ve spent the last few days thinking about all of you. Thinking of the students I had in my very first year of teaching when I had no idea what I was doing, the students I grew with and learned with over the years, and the students I have now. I’ve thought about our conversations and debates. I’ve thought about the tears some of us cried together in sadness and mourning and of the times you made me laugh so hard that another type of tear touched my face. I’ve thought about what it means to be a teacher and how so much of what I want is for you to be safe. To be safe when you’re sitting in my classroom and to be safe when we are no longer together.
This spring has brought about a great deal of change for the UKSD family. When we normally would have been embarking on our yearly trip to Dominica, we had to postpone our travel plans not only for the safety of our participants but also for our friends on the island. Along with this is, there has been a shift in the way that we are able to interact with the kids we work with, as we are all social distancing to do our part to keep our community safe. Something we have always tried to teach here at UKSD is the importance of being a leader. The greatest leaders in the world have often come from their ability to find light in the darkest situations. Our youth leaders have fostered this belief for a long time and are now setting it into motion.
All too often, we see young girls in our communities who have yet to realize the strength they have as individuals and as members of a whole. This can be due to factors such as a lack of selfesteem, the negative influence social media can have, and the everyday adversities young women face.
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.
As with each Fall, the team at UKSD is often very busy with high school soccer seasons. While some of our programming might seem to slow down, this is the time of year when final planning and preparations are underway for the exciting programs we will see between the winter and summer months. Mark our words, the turning of the decade will be a year to remember for us at UKSD.
While we are going to run our annual KidzPlay4Free Projects throughout the year, we have also been planning some exciting events
through our after school Community Empowerment and Leadership Club. We will embark on enhancing the education portion of our
programs and launch our new initiative, the Girls 4 Girls program.
This program is designed to connect generations of females in order to delve into the importance of supporting and empowering one another. We will do this through social issue education, activities, and reading programs. To kick of this program, we are holding a viewing of the documentary Girl Rising. This viewing will be the catalyst for important conversations around female education and empowerment.
In addition to these exciting opportunities, we also have set a foundation for what may potentially turn into a new Social Change
Through Soccer Tour. This October, we hosted a group of students, athletes, and coaches who traveled to the United States from Moldova.
This group reached out, as they were interested in expanding their knowledge of the American school system as well as our approach to
developing sports programs. Our time spent together was eye opening for all involved.
The group attended a day at Barnstable High School and was able to tour the building, see classrooms and the varied programs offered, as well as attend athletic practices. During the school day, our visitors from Moldova attended a session with students in the high school’s newly renovated library. During this session, students asked one another about their cultures, studies, and general way of life. With the help of translators, the teens were able to connect on such a real and candid level. It was fascinating to see what they have in common as teens but also what differs due to their geographical location.
After this session, students enjoyed lunch together and were able to talk in a more informal setting. It was here that they were able to talk more about what they share in common, while also sharing their goals and ideas for the future. After lunch, some members of the Moldova group when the a Q&A session with some of the school’s coaching staff, while others gave a presentation to students about the history and culture of Moldova. When the school day was done, the students then attended either a football practice or soccer practice. Here, they were able to learn from the coaches, interact with the players, and show off their skills. At the girl’s soccer practice in particular, the Moldovan coaches actually ran a session for all players. Everyone was able to see, first hand, how sports can be a thread to connect people from varied cultures, backgrounds, and who may not even share the same language.
When the day at the high school was done, the Moldovan group then traveled to Hingham, MA to spend the evening with South Shore Select Soccer Club. This could only be described as surreal. Select is host to some of the most talented and dedicated players and coaches in the region. The group from Moldova was once again able to meet with coaches and players and borrow ideas pertaining to coaching styles, systems of play, and program set up. The evening then concluded with an outdoor game under the lights. It was something that everyone in attendance will undoubtedly remember with great fondness. As this was a wonderful experience, we have begun discussions about a reciprocal program where students, teachers, and coaches from the US will travel to Moldova. This type of exchange is invaluable, and we are currently in discussion to see if this can be a reality. As you can see, we have been very busy and are looking forward to the year ahead. With our foundational programs solidified and ready to kick off and our new programs ready to launch, we anticipate one of our biggest years yet.
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