Learning through mentorship, and leveraging regional expertise and resources, is central to how Girls To Women operates. It's cost-effective, locally-relevant, supportive. And we see how girls light up when high-achieving, culturally-reflective women give them the attention and encouragement which they and all children deserve. Experience has shown us that the nature and quality of relationships motivates learning, and the directions which young people take, as much as any other factor one could name.
That said, we're having a lively Spring 2015 Semester here at 'g2W.'
Early in the term, we welcomed a group of prominent Silicon Valley women of-color to our facility. Our distinguished guests included Lisa Jackson, former US EPA Administrator and Apple Computers' Vice President for Environmental Initiatives, along with Apple's Global Energy Supply Manager, Ranjana Ninan. Girls were a little awed by our guests, and listened with rapt attention while Lisa and Ranjana described how Apple is working to source and use more renewable energy, develop energy-efficiency products, and advance 'clean-tech' and 'green-tech.'
Ranjana then led the girls in construction of their own miniature solar power stations, and our future scientists were amazed at how a shaft of sunlight could run a small motor, play digital music, or operate a calculator through the palm-sized units which they'd built. We couldn't have imagined a better way to turn girls on to Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) learning.
We've always had STEM-related activities at g2W, whether it's been trips to Chabot Space & Science Center, sending middle-school girls to the annual Expanding Your Horizons Math & Science conference at nearby Skyline College, or running various STEM-based programming, such as TechBridge, onsite. And why not . . . Silicon Valley is projecting a shortage of technology professionals over the next decade or so, where, despite progress, women of color remain underrepresented in the workforce.
We also believe that successful learning and development can't all be between the ears . . . girls need to complement scholastic development with health and fitness. That's why in 2012 we first honored one of our own organizational mentors, Mari Wright, with a community-based 5K health and fitness fun-run at the adjacent East Palo Alto Baylands open space area and park. March of this year saw our 4th Annual event, with hundreds of local residents, local and regional elected officials, business sponsors, and general community participation. The 'run-up' to the event provided a focus for programming and lessons on good nutrition, exercise, the value of outdoor time, and healthy lifestyle choices generally with the girls and their families. It just makes sense that a healthy body and a mind that is ready and capable of learning go together.
Here mid-Semester, our academic support program is in full swing; the current version of our math tutoring program which we began last fall (and reported on in our previous update) has worked out very well indeed. We're pleased with student, parental, and classroom teacher feedback, and on the jump in comprehension and math scores which our youthful scholars are exhibiting in response. The girls who go on to engineering and other STEM-related disciplines will need strong math skills, and we're laying the best foundation which we can for them.
Meanwhile, it isn't too early to begin planning for our 9th Consecutive Summer Session. Staff, Board Members, and Volunteers are already at it. Partial funding for Summer 2015 is secured but we're depending on our generous individual donors to help make up the difference between now and late June.
Thanks to all of our GlobalGiving donors for your support. We couldn't do it without you!
The numbers don't lie -- hiring a part-time math tutor, recruiting tutoring volunteers with math backgrounds, and investing in related learning materials is improving our girls' quantitative reasoning and math skills. Parents, classroom teachers, our staff, and not least our 35 regular School Year Program girls ages 6-14 all say the same thing, and everyone involved seem pleased with the results. We hope that we don't sound like we're exaggerating . . . it is just we are proud of what the new emphasis on math tutoring has wrought since we retained a specialist to ramp-up the math tutoring module.
Yes, Gibberleh -- our staff math tutor and seasoned classroom teacher, will sit down at the work table and assist girls wrestling with everything from simple addition to algebra during her regular Tuesday and Thursday afternoon visits. But she's also got a number of tricks up her sleeve for getting girls to think and do math. She has them reciting their multiplication tables while double-dutch jumproping, inciting friendly competition through match quizzes and games, and augmenting her lessons wih online tutorials which are deceptively 'fun' while imparting quantitative reasoning skills.
It doesn't hurt that we also have Malthusiana Ramos, who is on a STEM-educator track at the local community college, for our lead math tutoring volunteer. She, along with Gibberleh, not only tutors the girls directly, but coaches our other general homework assistance tutoring volunteers from nearby Eastside College Preparatory School in effective tutoring methods. Finally, we have two adult academic support volunteers recruited through our logistical and financial supporter the One World Children's Fund.
One of Malthusiana and Gibberleh's star math pupils is Pokeeka Cervantes, who's been attending Girls to Women since 2013. Upon arrival as a 3rd grader, Pokeeka's arithmetic skills were clearly a good 2 years below grade-level. But soon after beginning with us, she rather forthrightly announced her intention to improve in her math skills. Pokeeka 'walked her talk' and took the initiative to seek out Gibberleh, Malthusiana, and the Eastside College Preparatory volunteer tutors every afternoon she attended (usually 3 afternoons a week) and not only to ask about specific problems, but to get advice on exercises and drills that would help her develop her background understanding. Now, as a 5th grader, Pokeeka has mastered long division and is consistently scoring in the top of her class. We applaud Pokeeka, and see her as an example of what girls anywhere will do when they sense that they are in a supportive, positive environment.
Along with math, English language arts and literacy is the other major tutorial need area. We've always approached literacy tutoring from the love-of-reading angle as great way to inspire the focus and enthusiasm needed to help youth to develop this bedrock skill-set. In that spirit our staff, with the support of volunteers and parents, have worked with the girls to start 2 book clubs: One for the mid-to-late elementary girls, and one for the middle-school group. The reading list is one which girls choose among themselves, augmented with titles from program staff. Each group are sequentially reading and discussing each book in their selected series each Friday afternoon. This 'lighter' but still-focused approach works well with the weekend mentality which girls have on Fridays -- there's no homework due the next day, so the 'low-pressure' fun aspect of reading is offered at the most auspicious time of the week.
The younger girls, though generally not ready for a book club just yet, aren't neglected, but benefit from 'Story Time (read-to by staff and volunteers),' read-aloud exercises, and spelling and word-recognition activities. We encourage parental participation in academic support at all levels, but one of the easiest and frankly, most family-bonding methods is for parents to simply read and be read-to alongside their early-elementary children. Twenty-five percent more parents say that they are reading regularly to their younger daughters now than 18 months ago, according to our semiannual parental surveys.
Summer Session 2014 -- our 8th Consecutive -- saw far and away the highest attendance in our history, with 60% more girls than our usual average of 30 to 35 participants ages 6-14 signing-up. This simply illustrated what we already know -- that the clamor for girl-centered enrichment and development programming in our rapidly-growing and -changing community is on the increase.
That especially holds true for our promising but vulnerable middle school girls. Their feet need to find healthy pathways if they are to negotiate the risky adolescent years successfully and enter upon young adulthood ready to enter into vocational or collegiate training with minimum encumbrances.
We couldn't have done it without the support of our community partners. Longtime ally Eastside Preparatory School opened their doors to us, providing the extra facility space which the larger number of girls required. Some of our Summer Session interns and volunteers were also Eastside students. Other organizations from the YMCA to the Leyla Beban Young Authors Foundation provided access to athletic, artistic, and literacy programming. Thanks to all of you!
If we do say so ourselves, what a program we had! Girls took advantage of well-rounded spectrum of activities ranging from swimming to creative writing workshops, gardening, exciting field trips, STEM-related digital programming and other Information Technology classes, math games, mindfulness exercises, learning the habitat requirements for their favorite animals, team sports, and stage plays.
The hallmark of our approach to youth development is personalized attention. Here again, with a record-breaking 51 girls for Summer Session 2014, our community did not let us down. Eight collegiate and high-school interns and volunteers stepped forward to support our 6 program staff with the fine-grained mentorship that only a low (1:4 for Summer Session '14) ratio of participants to program personnel can deliver. That's not to mention the stellar contributions of our parents, who did everything from make lunches and stage costumes to taxiing carfuls of girls for our several field trips.
Speaking of that, our girls enjoyed these special excursions to:
Field trips are a perenniel favorite . . . we find that some of the more economically-challenged and immigrant-background girls have simply not had many chances to get out of their neighborhoods to see what the Greater Bay Area has to offer. Yet we have seen how young hearts and minds can open when they do have such experiences.
Positive self-image building, multiculturalism, and counteraction of negative stereotypes about women and girls is another cornerstone of our approach, and Summer Session 2014 was no exception. Guided mindfulness exercises, group discussions, review and critique of cultural signals, personal sharing and testimony, and artistic explorations, along with mentoring from high-achieving, culturally-reflective women, are the means by which we accomplish this. And we could not have failed completely in this, because it was the girls themselves who asserted that a Talent Show should form the centerpiece of our Annual End-of-Summer Celebration in late July would be an appropriate way to wrap-up our summer. As-always, staff, volunteers, and parents pulled out all the stops to ensure that the Celebration would be a success.
Our parents, community leaders, donors, volunteers, and other supporters were therefore treated to a variety show that didn't disappoint, featuring renditions of famous show tunes, dazzling costumes, distinctive solo performances, and more. What struck us, as it always does, is how girls who might have begun with us as shy introverts can literally 'take the stage' and present themselves in no uncertain terms to a crowd of familiar and new faces in ways that would have been impossible for them before. Yes, the term 'heart-warming' is a bit of a cliche' -- but it certainly applied in this case, and we couldn't have been happier about the strong note that was struck by the Talent Show to end this year's Summer Session.
Now of course, we're off and running with our School Year 2014-2015 Program. We're implementing more STEM-learning for our girls with mentoring from Palo Alto's prestigious Castilleja School computer-savvy high school students, continuing our Parent Education workshops, and delivering our balance of academic, artistic, athletic, positive socialization, and just plain fun activities.
But it is good to stop every once in awhile and reflect back on how our organization and community came together to make our biggest Summer Session ever the success that it was. Thanks again to all of our logistical, in-kind, financial, and moral supporters!