The participants were selected with the help of guidance counselors who communicated with academic core teachers to provide a list of students who would benefit from participation in this program. The girls who were nominated were those that had leadership potential. Some girls that participated had different struggles and areas of growth. Some were shy, questioning their identity, would benefit from social emotional support, and had faced difficult friendships or peer issues in the recent past. All of these girls were viewed by the Chenery staff as potential leaders who have great potential.
Girls’ Groups were comprised of 6-8th grade and 9-12th grade girls nominated for leadership potential from both Chenery Middle School and Belmont High School.
The girls were divided into 3 rooms- 2 for the middle school and 1 for the high school. College students and TAs from Lesley worked with the girls each week on various topics related to identity and leadership including healthy relationships, conflict resolution, self-care and body image.
Throughout the 9 sessions, the girls engaged in games, art activities, dancing, discussion, and journaling to deconstruct social knowledge and reconstruct their own knowledge in relationship with the group. In essence, the girls were having fun, learning about the world and their place in it, and gaining a voice for themselves in a safe environment.
Together, all participants explored the social and cultural construction of girlhood- how gender, sexuality/ies, race, class, ethnicity, education, and the media shape their lives. Participants built relationship through feminist group process and co-construction aimed at the development of critical identity, relational health, and cultural competencies.
The nature of the work required of students and the leadership team alike was rigorously self reflective and critical. We examined our own girlhoods, positionality, relationship to media and culture, and social contexts alongside the larger scholarship to inform the community based research/ ‘service learning’ we do in girls’ groups.
Because all participants are engaged in developmental work and immersed in a classroom culture of reflection and accountability, the delineations between teacher/ student, researcher/ subject, adult/youth are constantly present, but challenged.
Participants often return to TGP for multiple years and become leaders in their schools, mentors to younger girls, and activists in their communities. Participants, parents, teachers and administrators cite marked development in girls’ leadership capacity, sense of self, engagement, critical consciousness and high school or college readiness.
Quotes from participants:
“The mentors we had were all strong, educated and wholesome women who became inspirations in everyone’s eyes. They taught us about not just feminism and women’s rights but about self worth and the power of self love. Because of them and The Girlhood Project I’ve become a more socially educated and confident person. I’ve learned to see and feel the connection between women everywhere and how much power each of us has.”
“I learned what Feminism really meant and why there are feminists in the world. Being a feminists at its core is really about equality for all genders not just women. This idea allowed me to see that anyone could be a feminist not just women, which was a single story I had about feminists before The Girlhood Project.”
“This time of my life has been confusing, and put quite simply, hard to navigate. This is why I think that a community of girls all sharing their experiences with each other, helping one another combat issues and persevere would be such an asset to the Belmont Public Schools community. Having other people coming from a similar viewpoint share with you their experiences, lets you know that you are not alone.”