Sep 1, 2015

The Art & Science of Summer Session

 Here at g2W, it is the linkage of our in-house expertise with the special talents and resources of community partners that gives our Summer Sessions the depth and variety that we believe is key to the best youth programming. 

Kids respond to options.  When there are opportunities to explore a variety of experiences, modes of expression, and topics, there are sure to be one or more program elements with which a young person can engage with her whole being, in a way that makes her want to challenge her boundaries.

We like to think that our Summer Session 2015 did that for our 39 participating low-income girls ages 6-14.

 Sixth-grader Nora (not her real name), for example, entered Summer Session with enthusiasm for our creative writing workshop series, offered again this year in conjunction with the Leyla Beban Young Authors' Foundtion, but with an aversion to computers.  As her enthusiasm for getting her story ideas into written form progressed through the series however, her reluctance to confront word-processing gave way to recognition that it could greatly speed up the laborious handwriting, erasing, and re-writing process which she'd started with.  After just 2 days, Juanita took it upon herself to practice and get help with the keyboard -- and by the end of the week she was well on her way to being a ten-fingered typist and onscreen wordsmith!

Returning to a more general view of the girls' summer, there were a series of limited-duration specialty activities, tailored for our 3 different age-sets, in a context of regular daily or weekly activities over the 5 days/week, 6-week term.


  1. Creative Writing -- As mentioned in Nora's story the dozen+ middle school-age girls (ages 12-14) participated in a series of daily 2-hour long creative writing exercises for one week again this year in partnership with the Leyla Beban Young Authors' Foundation.  Activities included: collaborative creative writing games, writing concise stories, coaching on story development, writing prompts, and public presentation skills.
  2. Photography -- The girls in our late elementary group (ages 9-11) had 3 2-hour sessions with noted Bay Area arts educator and photographer Van Nguyen Stone.  The girls explored the question, 'What is wisdom?' through photography and related arts, and compared their findings with young people from San Francisco's Mission District and from Carrefour, Haiti.  Some Words of Wisdom that came from our participating girls included “You’re not alone” and “Not everything has to be perfect.”
  3. Blogging and Website design -- Even here on the edge of the Silicon Valley, youth from low-income sectors can still get caught in the information technology 'digital divide' wrought by limited access to IT learning and resources opportunities. Local youth-and-technology nonprofit CodeAcademy collaborated with us to provide 2 weeks of hourly workshops for our middle-school girls focused on desigining and deveolping a blogspot based on a topic of their choice. Along the way, they learned about web design, page creation, image choice and placement, topic deveolpment, content creation and peer review. At the end of the workshop, each girl presented her site. Each participant has access and is empowered to continue working on her site beyond the workshop. Girls chose a wide variety of topics ranging from cuisine to cultural origins; one example is here:
  4. Heritage & Immigration Storytelling Through Art -- Our longtime arts education partner Judy Gittlesohn created a safe place for our 9-12 age group girls to explore their own family's story of immigration and understanding of place though art. In one activity, girls painted a scene of their family's immigration to this country and then discussed and debriefed the activity. Concuding the 4 day workshop, all groups of girls went to the Cantor Art Institute to view the Jacob Lawrence exhibition.
  5. Mindfulness, Meditation, and Journaling -- The youngest (ages 6-8) and oldest (12-14) girls' groups had introductions to non-denominational meditation and self-awareness training through daily one-hour sessions over one week with Lakiba Pittman, Adjunct Professor at Menlo College and Diversity Director at Notre Dame De Namur University.  By observing and calming their minds through meditation, then writing-down and sharing their impressions of their experience, girls deepened their self-awareness, and perceived the distinction between their deep selves and their transitory, ever-changing thoughts.


 Many of our girls have had quite limited exposure to nature, science, and just plain fun venues outside of their immediate communities.  Field trips are a central and ever-popular part of our Summer Sessions, and 2015 was no exception:

  1. Creative Ecology: Exploring Our Environment with Art, Science, and the Community at Cooley Landing – Linda Gass, resident artist @ Palo Alto Art Center and Junior Museum and Zoo hosted consecutive 1-time visits from each of our 3 age-groups to a protected nearby San Francisco Bay wetlands.  Linda gave the girls a basic natural history tour and combined this with exercises that literally illustrated how scientists and artists used similar techniques to describe the natural world and ecological relationships.
  2.  Cantor Arts Center at Stanford, Jacob Lawrence exhibition - this field trip culminated the Heritage & Immigration Storytelling through art workshop series led by Judy Gittlesohn (see preceding).  Lawrence's art explores themes of cultural diaspora and its effects on people of-color.
  3. Chabot Space and Science Center - This is a perenniel favorite with the girls and one where we reinforce the point that the sciences are a potential career path for women of all descriptions!  This major East Bay eductional destination has as the name implies any number of interactive exhibits on space exploration, planets, and a world class planetarium where the girls watched an Imax 3d presentation.
  4. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve – The girls went, by age-group, to this marine conservation science and education center.  Each group had a guide, hike to beach looked at tide pools and learned about creatures in that area. 


Our action-packed summers incorporate the specialized activities above into a range of more regular sports & fitness, literacy, crafts, STEM-related learning.  Summer Session 2015 continued the winning formula which we'ce developed over our previous 8 Summer Sessions

  1.  Swimming, all girls, 2x/week for 3 weeks at the local YMCA
  2. Reading time – Combining all 3 groups into one activity, all of the girls spent time every day, in mixed groups reading together. Everyone would take turns reading out loud to each other, the older girls helping the younger ones.
  3. Science experiments and thinking challenges – fun group challenges in everything from engineering to biology. 
  4. Sports –basketball, volleyball, Frisbee, football, dodgeball, soccer, kickball teach cooperation and teamwork while supporting fitness and health.
  5. Art activities – Throughout the session, girls not only had the previously-mentioned discrete thematic arts workshops, but also had less structured time to experiment with various art media – everything from knitting and bracelet making, to chalk drawing and lava lamps construction!
  6. Academic workbook activities – Girls had daily educational workbook activities which helped keep up the skills they need in school such critical thinking and math. .
  7. Games – Board games, Life, Scrambled states, math bingo, and pronoun bingo were fun ways to keep girls' minds developing key skills as thinking ahead and quantitative reasoning. 
  8. Free time – reading, playing outside.  Reading in both group and individual context is a good activity for the quiet hour after lunch.  Older girls had a book club where a combination of staff and group consensus on participants' suggestions set the reading-list.  Younger girls could choose from a list or clear their choices with group leaders and have discussions.  The youngest girls had read-to-me time with staff, interns, volunteers, or older girls.

In addition, we provided nutritional support in the form of two snacks and lunch on a daily basis.  The presence of interns recruited from among older middle-school girls who'd been through our program, along with parental, collegiate, and service-organization volunteers helped to keep the staff:participant ratio close to an ideal 1:4.

Based on the semiannual surveys which we've administered to our young participants and their parents, Summer Session 2015 met the mutually reenforcing objectives of:

  1. A fun, engaging program with many dimensions leveraged by collaboration with community resources.
  2. Positive challenge and a pro-learning environment.
  3. A safe place with structured activities for the girls of hard-working parents.
  4. Positive socialization and respect for many cultures.
  5. Extension of academics-related skills-building.
  6. Contact with the natural world and with the sciences.
  7. Individual attention and mentoring.
  8. Opportunities to connect in-depth with focused activities which girls particularly related-to.

We mentioned Nora's story.  But there were many others.  In fact, if we do say so, every girl whom we served found activities that helped her to call forth her own potential and make use of it.  Providing a place where that can happen is so much of what we're all about here at Girls To Women.

Thanks as always for the support of all of you GlobalGiving donors!  You are helping to bring a unique and, we feel, valuable program to East Palo Alto's 'low-income but high-potential' girls.


May 1, 2015

Springtime Is Learning Time

My solar energy mini power-plant really works!
My solar energy mini power-plant really works!

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!

Building a small solar power-station
Building a small solar power-station
Apples' Lisa Jackson
Apples' Lisa Jackson
All smiles at the Margaret Wright Fitness 5K Run
All smiles at the Margaret Wright Fitness 5K Run


Jan 27, 2015

Fall Semester - Math Tutoring by the Numbers; Book Clubs form

Book Club Discussion
Book Club Discussion

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.

Mastering Multiplication
Mastering Multiplication


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