Goodman Community Center | Girls Inc. emerges from COVID-19 Stronger,…

Girls Inc. emerges from COVID-19 Stronger, Smarter and Bolder in its mission

Girls Inc. ups its game with outdoor adventures and STEM activities — and at more community sites.

March 2, 2022 |
Three girls smile while holding homemade slime.
STEM projects, like this one making slime, are both fun and instructional for youth in Girls Inc.

By Sara Nowakowski, GCC director of mission impact

With schools from the Madison Metropolitan School District returning to in-person learning, Girls Inc. leaders are thrilled to offer Girls Inc. programming within the walls of schools again.

“This is where we have the greatest impact, because we’re able to offer programming that is accessible to girls,” said Pahoua Vang, assistant director of Girls Inc. of Greater Madison (GIGM). Vang has helped Girls Inc. programs in the Madison area respond to the changing needs of girl members for almost eight years.

Girls Inc. is a national organization that has been inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold since 1864. It is the leading advocate in advancing rights and opportunities for all girls. GIGM, a program of the Goodman Community Center, has served as the local affiliate since 2014, providing support to program providers in the greater Madison area. GCC is also one of the program providers.

Before the pandemic, GIGM’s curriculum was primarily offered in after-school programs through Madison School and Community Recreation’s enrichment programs; school-day programming at O’Keeffe Middle School and East High School with Goodman’s Girls Inc. outreach team; and in community centers like Middleton Youth Center, Goodman Community Center, Kennedy Heights Community Center and Lussier Community Education Center.

“Through STEM programming, girls feel strong when they push through challenging tasks as a group, like when we do teambuilding activities. As they explore STEM and work together in groups, their STEM readiness increases along with their confidence in tackling problems.”

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Madison school district cancelled in-person learning for the rest of the school year. GIGM quickly pivoted to offer Girls Inc. programming virtually. Staff created virtual activities that would still intentionally support girls’ health and wellness, academic enrichment and life skills development.

This didn’t come without its challenges. At the time, youth were attending school online all day. Many students were burned out on technology and didn’t want to log in for one more virtual activity. Community centers offering Girls Inc. were the first program sites to return to in-person programming, but capacity was limited, and not all families were comfortable sending their children for in-person activities. Not surprisingly, many girls stopped engaging with Girls Inc. during this time.

Fast-forward to the current school year when students returned to in-person learning.

“We’re rebuilding,” Vang said. “We have facilitators back in schools. MSCR programming is back in Madison schools. Our community center partners are offering programming. And we’re continuing to provide virtual options, which actually make Girls Inc. more accessible to those who can’t make it to an on-site program.”

MSCR rebuilds capacity in Madison schools

MSCR has been a great partner in the rebuild. In anticipation of in-person programming for 2021-22, MSCR’s elementary program hired Girls Inc. facilitators to support its pre-pandemic, in-person program model. Last summer, MSCR offered three pop-up Girls Inc. events around the Madison area to help girls get excited about the revival of in-person programs in MSCR schools that offer Girls Inc.

After almost two years of virtual programming, MSCR returned to in-person after-school Girls Inc. programming at Schenk, Mendota, Nuestro Mundo and Emerson elementary schools. Before the pandemic hit, MSCR had offered Girls Inc. programming at 12 elementary school after-school programs and eight middle school after-school programs. With MSCR continuing to rebuild its capacity to offer Girls Inc., it anticipates reaching more girls in even more schools this spring.

Girls Inc.’s Leadership Adventure Club climbs off Lake Monona.

Goodman’s Girls Inc. outreach team also returned to offering school-day programming at O’Keeffe and East. Jade Koenigs, Girls Inc. outreach coordinator, offers a Girls Inc. leadership class for eighth grade girls at O’Keeffe as part of its menu of encore class options. At East, Koenigs offers school-day lunch programming where, Girls Inc. is a youth-led club and elects its own officers. The elected student leaders from Girls Inc. advocate for — and plan — intentional, strong, smart, and bold programming that reflects the needs and inter­ests of their peers.

Virtual instruction still an option

Though it has returned to in-person programming, Girls Inc. continues to offer accessible programming options for girls virtually. MSCR offers four virtual yoga and mindfulness sessions for all elementary school Girls Inc. participants. MSCR’s Girls Inc. program leaders recognize that the pandemic continues to be a stressful time for the girls they serve.

“We received a great response from girls and families. We had 25 girls sign up and 10-15 girls consistently logging into our virtual sessions each week,” said Leslie Smith, MSCR elementary specialist and Girls Inc. coordinator. “It’s so cool to see girls who only participated in virtual programming last year continue to participate in virtual programming this spring. Everyone is having a great time and leaves each virtual session uplifted and inspired.”

Smith wanted this yoga opportunity to be available to all girls, so starting this spring, all girls in any elementary school (even schools that don’t have access to MSCR programming) were given access to the virtual sessions.

Through the virtual mindfulness sessions, girls learn techniques to help deal with stress and practice affirming their strengths, all while still incorporating literacy. MSCR’s mindfulness activities begin with a story about a strong, smart, and bold female protagonist, read by Smith. After talking about the lessons learned from the story, girls are on their feet and guided through different yoga poses like downward dog, mountain pose, child’s pose and bridge.

The virtual sessions end with Girls Inc. members sharing affirmations and stories about moments during the pandemic when they were brave or were kind to themselves and others. During these sessions, you can hear girls proudly exclaiming affirmations like, “I AM STRONG!”

“Their affirmations are great, and they’re a reminder of why we do this work — so that (the girls) can scream at the top of their lungs that they’re the best person!” said Smith.

Future of Girls Inc. programming

GIGM is excited to continue to reestablish Girls Inc. programs and introduce new ones to girls in the Madison area. This school year, GIGM’s outreach team has created the foundation to offer impactful, engaging STEM programming for elementary-age girls.

“Through STEM programming, girls feel strong when they push through challenging tasks as a group, like when we do teambuilding activities,” said Rachel Ancheta, Girls Inc. STEM coordinator. “As they explore STEM and work together in groups, their STEM readiness increases along with their confidence in tackling problems.”

Ancheta offers science, technology, engineering and math programming once a week at the Goodman Center. These programs allow girls to learn about different areas of STEM through hands-on, interactive activities.

Ancheta also runs STEM Club once a week for additional learning, and is preparing to launch Girls Inc.’s STEM summer camp.

“Girls Inc.’s STEM camp will be loaded with so many fun activities, games and adventures. It’s the culmination of our STEM programming!” Ancheta said. “We’ll dig into all the quality STEM kits we’ve been looking forward to using, as well as explore nature outdoors. We’re so fortunate to be able to work with partners from various STEM fields, and offer fun field trips every week this summer.”

Again this summer, Girls Inc. will also offer an adventure camp for middle-school-age girls, including those at other program sites or even youth not currently participating in Girls Inc. Camp activities will push girls to take healthy risks and provide access to nontraditional active options that they may not have access to without the program.

Looking forward, GIGM is committed to incorporating girls’ voices into the design of programming and continuing to find stronger, smarter, and bolder ways to deliver on its mission.

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