By Haley Wilson
The Birmingham Times
For many metro area students, this has been a more challenging summer than in past because of the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread reports of gun violence, and often disturbing social justice news.
But Girls Inc. of Central Alabama has found a way to help young girls in the Birmingham area to cope through Bold Girls Rock! camps, which are dedicated to building self-esteem through guided mentorship and have provided much-needed character development and learning opportunities.
That has come in handy as the girls prepare for the Birmingham City Schools (BCS) fall semester, which begins on August 2.
Julean Kirkpatrick, Girls Inc. community impact program manager, said the organization’s summer programs are crucial to combating the aftereffects of the pandemic, which caused many schools to cut academic programming short.
“[It] is definitely important to address learning loss because the pandemic has taken a really big toll on our students academically,” Kirkpatrick said. “They need the programming we provide because it helps them in so many ways. It increases their self-esteem, and it helps them to see themselves differently.”
There are other benefits, as well, she said.
“I think these types of environments are important for girls because many of them, due to the pandemic, have not been able to socialize,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is an excellent opportunity for [the girls] to gain support through the program with each other. They are able to form friendships that they may not have been able to develop, especially during the pandemic.
“This is also needed because there are girls who get a lot of negative messages from the world. They have to look a certain way, sometimes they may have to act a certain way. We believe girls are strong, smart, and bold just like they are. We want to give them positive messages, not what society gives them.”
Kirkpatrick noted that the girls also really needed that time to be together.
“What makes [Girls Inc.] unique is that we have the girls without the boys,” she said. “It was a time when the girls got a chance to make new friends and really get to know each other versus being in a classroom where they’re doing work with [instructors]. It gave them the freedom to talk, to say certain things, to find out more about each other. … Maybe they weren’t able to be as talkative during the pandemic, but together they’re able to talk and support each other a whole lot more. … They’ve actually formed bonds with each other, which is what we wanted them to do.”
Partnering With BCS
The program partnered with students in the Bessemer area and BCS for the summer activities.
“This isn’t our first time working with BCS, but it is the first time we’ve partnered with them for this particular program, which I’ve been conducting since 2018,” Kirkpatrick said. “[Our organization has] a strong relationship with BCS, but this is the first that I know of that we’ve actually partnered in as a summer program. It has been an amazing experience.”
This summer’s Bold Girls Rock! partnered with Hayes K-8 School from June 10 to July 1 to conduct a camp conducted by different staff members. The program, offered to students in kindergarten through fourth grade, provided an exciting and uplifting environment each day.
“Literally, the first day the girls came, we were their cheerleaders,” Kirkpatrick said. “We had red-and-white pompoms and cheered them in as they entered. We also did affirmations, such as ‘I am beautiful the way that I am,’ and continued those affirmations throughout every day of camp.”
In addition to the affirmations, the program focused on activities that encouraged the girls be strong, smart, and bold.
“The main thing we were attempting to do with this camp was to increase self-esteem,” Kirkpatrick said. “We also gave them age-appropriate information. We talked about puberty and all the changes they’re going through. We talked about bullying prevention.
“We talked to their parents because we feel like at this age, [in particular], they need to develop strong relationships with their parents. We provided [science, technology, engineering (STEM)] activities, and did some math enrichment, too. A lot of the girls experienced learning loss over the summer, so we added the math enrichment component to help increase their math skills. We [also] taught art and Spanish.”
Girls Inc. also collaborated with the Bessemer Housing Authority for the Bold Girls Rock! Mini Summer Camp, a free program dedicated to equipping rising fifth- and sixth-grade girls in the area with tools to “navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up healthy, educated, and independent,” Kirkpatrick said of the camp that was held from July 19 to 23 at the Southside Homes Housing Community Event Center.
“The programming we provide helps the girls in so many ways,” she said. “It helps them to see themselves differently and encourages them to move forward and do things they may want to give up on.”
Working with the girls was a learning experience for the program managers and coordinators, as well.
“We learned that they are resilient. We learned that they love themselves. We learned that they think they are beautiful. We learned that they have a bright future. They told us all the things that they want for their future, and it was amazing,” said Kirkpatrick, who describes the Girls Inc. programming as “girl power to the 10th degree.”
Kirkpatrick is looking forward to the fall semester for the girls who participated in the Bold Girls Rock! Program
“I think the girls who went through our summer program will stand up a little bit stronger this fall,” she said. “They won’t be afraid to raise their hands and they will hold their heads up just a little bit higher.”
Parents or students who are interested Girls Inc.’s year-round or summer programs can visit www.girlsinccentral-al.org or call 205-595-4475.