Academic Support & Mentoring for Underserved Girls

by Girls to Women
Bridging the Digital Divide for low-income girls
Bridging the Digital Divide for low-income girls

Especially here in the Silicon Valley, we think it's only right that the girls we serve have access to learning advantages which 21st Century information technology provides.  Mobile IT devices, for example, make it easier than ever for girls to take digital information and lessons with them. 

But with most of our girls' families being low-income or even below-poverty, they generally can't afford late-model desktop computers in the home, let alone mobile IT devices for their girls.  Girls To Women seeks to bridge the 'digital divide' which exists for under-resourced community members by providing IT resources. We've upgraded our computer lab several times in our 9 years, and Girls To Women now has a dozen desktops and laptops, along with a WiFi system featuring wireless printers, cloud-based backup, and high-speed internet.

Thanks to a generous young donor and a savvy volunteer, we're about to expand IT capacity yet again.

Maureen, a retired librarian, already contributes her time and expertise to supporting girls' literacy. Maureen comes in every Tuesday for two hours, and works with each of our girls to develop individualized book lists that take into account their reading-levels and interests.

Meanwhile, Dani, the donor whom we mentioned, is showing philanthropic tendencies at a young age -- she's pledged all gifts from friends and family in honor of her upcoming Bat Mitsvah to Girls To Women!  What this means is that we can afford to acquire enough Amazon Kindles so that every girl in our program can have one to use for as long as she's with us. 

Maureen has responded by putting her digital librarian chops to work setting up a system where the girls can check-out e-books from local public libraries onto their Kindles.  Girls can do this either when they visit the library, or remotely from libraries' websites -- convenient, quick, and easy (see weblink)!  The light, portable digital format makes literature that much more accessible and "cooler."  Given how popular IT devices are with young people and for that matter just about everyone these days, we think that this will be yet another effective tool for our academic support & literacy programming.

Moving from literacy to the arts, we're pleased to report that celebrated local working artist Judy Gittlesohn is once again leading individual and group arts activities for our girls.  They look forward to the two-hour sessions which Judy leads each Wednesday.  Judy has a real gift for nurturing arts appreciation and skills in young people, and we couldn't be happier to have her back this spring. The contributions of GlobalGiving donors help to make Judy's and other arts programming available for our girls, and thanks to you all for that -- in our view, hands-on arts education is so valuable for optimum emotional and creative growth of youth (see weblink).

On the arts tip, the 'Words of Wisdom' group arts project which our girls completed during Summer Session 2015 is now on display at Cafe Zoe in nearby Menlo Park.  The display shows student artwork from young people ages 6-19, who participated in an international photography exchange, where they explored the meaning of wisdom and the impact it has on each of their lives. Through photography, creative writing and book making, students created self-portraits and their own words of wisdom to share with each other, their community, and young people from different cultures. Words of Wisdom is a collaboration between nonprofit youth development organizations Girls to Women, Streetside Stories, and One Bird.

While we're working on supporting girls' literacy and artistic development, we don't neglect the physical.  Low-income communities like the one we serve are at higher-risk for health challenges brought on by substandard dietary and lifestyle choices, and perhaps even more so by limited access to healthy alternatives.  We try to address that through a number of program elements ranging from vegetable gardening to healthy cooking and nutritional education, to movement and sports activities that make getting exercise fun.  And just this March we completed our 5th Annual Mari Wright Community 5K Fun Run & Fitness Event at one of our local regional shoreline parks.  The Fun Run culminates weeks of learning and activities around the benefits of fitness and healthy lifestyle. 

Judging by the smiles on the faces of our girls, friends, family, and community participants, the message was enthusiastically received!! 

Finally, we just learned that our Founder-Director Patricia Foster has been named the California Woman of the Year for our 24th State Assembly District.  Thanks to Assemblymember Rich Gordon for the nomination, and -- if we do say so ourselves -- congratulations Pat and well-deserved too (see weblink)!

Exploring creative horizons
Exploring creative horizons
We teach about good nutrition by growing it onsite
We teach about good nutrition by growing it onsite
Our 5th Annual community Fun Run takes off!
Our 5th Annual community Fun Run takes off!


Our girls were thrilled to meet Hillary Clinton
Our girls were thrilled to meet Hillary Clinton

As those of you generous donors who have kept up on our programming know, we strive to provide a broad-spectrum approach to youth development that nourishes all the many facets of growth in our girls -- artistic, academic, nutritional, professional, & emotional/inner life . . . if we do say so ourselves, we think that we outdid ourselves during the Fall 2015 Semester School Year Program.

Over the past 4 months, our girls had exciting field trips, met with the woman who may be our next President, participated in workshops on healthy diet and recipes; developed new artistic and STEM skills, and revelled in autumnal holiday parties, while also challenging themselves to grow academically.

For example, in September we hosted Bay Area author & educator Katherine Cepeda, who read from her children's book about good nutrition and led a presentation and discussion on what makes a healthy diet.  Obesity is a serious health problem which threatens many of the low-income families whom we serve, and we believe that having a culturally-reflective woman provide accessible, relevant information about it increased its impact.

October was quite a lively month at 'G2W.'

  • Our community partners at Los Altos Methodist Church underwrote the cost of a field trip to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Thirty girls rode the carousel, played, gasped at the bridge, which many had heard of but not yet seen, and to top it all off, watched the Blue Angels fly over the bay from their vantage point on the Marin County side! Judging by the responses of the girls and their discussions for days afterwards, it was certainly a fun day! 
  •  In collaboration with The Palo Alto Art Center, artist-in-residence Karen Gitter brought the final component of her 6 month-long Creative Ecology project blending nature and art to our girls in the form of a silk painting workshop. Each girl painted her own silk square that was put into a community quilt and is now on display at the Art Center. 
  • Not content to lead artistic explorations with our girls, dedicated g2W volunteer Karen Gitter has continued our nutritional education activities with a biweekly cooking class and nutritional education series beginning in October.  For every meal, Karen reviewed her choices of ingredients and their virtues, and got everyone down to business making a range of tempting, healthful items.  We've since heard that our girls have taken their recipes and their newfound knowledge home to begin building better community health from within their own families!
  • At the end of the month the girls eagerly put on their best costumes and joined our Halloween Party. About this time the girls also had a cultural lesson in the form of learning about Dia de los Muertos and making an altar to memorialize loved ones who have passed on. 

As the political life of the country warms up in anticipation of the 2016 presidential elections, we were offered in November the opportunity to have some of the girls meet Hillary Clinton on one of her Peninsula campaign stops. Six of our girls prepared by learning about Ms. Clinton and her accomplishments as a senator, Secretary of State, and First lady.  We followed-up with group conversations about gender and political office, and the significance of a woman as a presidential front-runner. The girls who met Ms. Clinton were positively electric with excitement, awe, and inspiration.  As the famous bumper-sticker puts it, 'A woman's place is in The House . . . and in The Senate.' Why not the White House?  Regardless of opinions on Hillary Clinton as a candidate, it was the point about gender equity and opportunity in politics which we wanted to make, and which was clearly taken to heart by the girls who met her. November also saw Girls to Women begin another year's partnership with MAGIC (More Active Girls In Computing), an organization that brings high-achieving women in Information Technology together with middle-school girls to work on individualized STEM projects over the course of a semester. We are excited to see these relationships build as the girls taking part build towards their final projects.

 Needless to say, our academic support activities and other more mundane but important parts of our program also continued during this time (please see previous reports).  Girls buckled down here in December for the major class reports and tests which the end of each semester brings.  We're proud of the progress with literacy, science, math, and other subjects which the girls we serve are making.  We can't do it without the parents, and in fact parental feedback and collaboration on studies at home are key to most girls' success in school.  But even so, girls need a balance of activities in order to truly thrive.  In that spirit, we had our annual Holiday Party earlier this month.  Girls, their parents, and other family members joined our staff, volunteers, donors, and other supporters to bring some light and cheer into these short winter days.

On that note, Happy Holidays to you from all of us at Girls To Women!  We depend on the generosity of donors large, medium, and small to meet our mission.  Thanks again, as always.

Girls went all out on those Halloween costumes!
Girls went all out on those Halloween costumes!
Karen and girls work up healthy kitchen treasures
Karen and girls work up healthy kitchen treasures
Girls all agog on the Golden Gate Bridge
Girls all agog on the Golden Gate Bridge
Santa & Mrs. Klaus joined our Holiday Party!
Santa & Mrs. Klaus joined our Holiday Party!


 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.


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
All smiles at the Margaret Wright Fitness 5K Run
All smiles at the Margaret Wright Fitness 5K Run


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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Girls to Women

Location: East Palo Alto, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Patrica Foster
Executive Director
East Palo Alto, CA United States

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