This Week In Girls Groups

People often ask us what happens in our girls’ groups. There’s curriculum, but how does it work? What do girls talk about? Each week, one of our muses will provide a sneak peek into a girls’ group. Check back regularly for updates!
Girls Coalition Group Academic Year 2015-2016

Girls Coalition Group Academic Year 2016-2017

November 4, 2016
Today, we began by using one of my favorite check-ins: rose, bud, thorn. Because last week was pretty intense for our girls, I felt that we needed to have a more structured check-in to see how everyone was doing. So, we asked them to identify something positive, something they are looking forward to, and something that has not been so great the past week. This fun game brought up previous conversations of bullying and even some instances where things have improved! This was a great transition into our activity about defining bullying. My co-muse and I asked the girls to create a bullying thermometer by sorting some examples of bullying into the least harmful and the most harmful categories. While we were reflecting on what each of the terms mean and how often the girls experience them, our group came to the conclusion that even if one example does not seem to be very harmful, or is not meant to be harmful, it can still be really hurtful to the victim. We ended group by asking the girls to practice noticing the different types of bullying that occurs in their schools and who is involved to prepare for next weeks theme of who plays a role in bullying. As we were leaving, the girls asked us to join them for recess so we could start practicing identifying instances of bullying and help to stop it. Seeing how quickly they respond to our conversations and with such enthusiasm always makes me so excited to come back each week!

October 28, 2016
Because it is almost Halloween, my co-muse and I thought we would get in the spirit by talking about how Halloween costumes are marketed to girls. But what the girls really wanted to talk about was their school’s Halloween dance later that evening. By describing the culture around the dances and the costumes, the girls ended up sharing some problematic incidents of gender specific bullying and harassment they have experienced at school. It seemed like the girls had a lot to share, so the girls took turns 
telling their stories, until one girl said that she thinks they need to speak to the principal, and asked my co-muse and I to help make that happen. It really was amazing to see how the girls trusted each other enough in this space to ask one another for help, even though it was only our second week. So, although we did not get a chance to talk about what he had planned, I am so happy that our group is a place where these girls can feel heard, band together, and create an action plan to work on their current problems.

October 21, 2016
Today was our first day of our girls coalition group! My co-muse and I talked about how nervous we were during the car ride there, unsure how the girls would respond to us. However, the minute the girls arrived, our reservations seemed silly. Our group is small, with just four girls all in sixth grade. I have never worked with a group this small, but I quickly realized what an asset this was. My co-muse and I had planned get-to-know-you games and to set up expectations for our future meetings, but we breezed through the activities, and the girls were already opening up to us and each other. Within the first half hour, the girls began to express their serious concerns about bullying within the school. Although we still have a lot of work to do to create a safe space, I was shocked by their enthusiasm and eagerness to share and work through the problems that they felt existed at their school. We ended group with each girl saying one small, positive thing they could do this week that they think could impact their school culture, and I was so impressed by the empathy and kindness the girls’ responses showed. As we were leaving, one girl said how she wished next Friday wasn’t so far away, and I couldn’t agree more!

Girls Coalition Group Academic Year 2015-2016
October 19 – 23, 2015
The night before my first girls’ group meeting, I’m always tense. I don’t know much about the situation into which I will be walking the next day. What kind of space will I have? How many girls will join this year? Have any of them participated in a Hardy Girls program before? Where do I sign in? Are the girls excited? How will my co-muse respond to the girls? Last year I was surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the sheer energy that seven enthusiastic teenage girls can bring to the table; this year was no different, except that I was slightly more prepared! It is always a challenge to keep discussions on track without speaking over the girls, but it looks like I’ll get the chance to practice that skill a fair amount this year! We will definitely be passing around a “talking stick”, an object that gives its holder the right to speak, in future meetings …. In all honesty, though, my co-muse and I are incredibly excited to be working with such an energetic group!

October 26 – 30, 2015
One moment that stuck with me this week was when one of our quieter girls voluntarily shared an experience that aligned with an experience I’d spoken of earlier. There was almost a sense of relief in her eyes that someone was going through the same thing. It just goes to show you the power of empathy and connection — age is not always a barrier when it comes to understanding one another. Stories, no matter their length, can foster an incredible sense of connection between people of all walks of life. Only about half our girls were able to come to group this week, but we had some really productive conversations focused around the expectations our families have for us versus the expectations we have for ourselves. The girls are already bringing pieces of their lives into our conversations, which is a strange mix of exciting and disheartening: I am glad that we seem to have already created a safe space for them, but I wish that such a space did not need to be created in the first place.

November 2 – 6, 2015
This week, the lesson plan we created got tossed right out the window. We were all gung-ho to dive into social media (the girls are on social media platforms that I haven’t even heard of!) — but we got derailed on the subject of bullying. The girls sounded like they had a lot to say, so we let them speak. We had the girls go around the room one by one, sharing a rumor that they’d heard going around this week. Most of them shared a rumor they’d heard about themselves. We talked a little bit about coping strategies and support networks, about how these kinds of things made us feel. When we ended group, the girls said they wished they could stay here with us for the rest of the day. I’m really hoping we can channel their frustrations into a passion to do something about it — we’ll start talking seriously about a social action project next week. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with!

November 9 – 13, 2015
Before my co and I could even say more than hello to our girls this week, one of them piped up: “I have something to say!” We kind of looked at each other — we weren’t sure if this was going to be on-topic or irrelevant or important or completely derailing to our lesson plan for today. Nonetheless, this is a space for our girls to say anything they want to say, so we let her speak. And she blew us away. Without our prodding, she had created and shared a Google Doc with the rest of the group for the sole purpose of extending their conversations about the social action project (and other things) outside our weekly meetings. She had, of her own volition, created another safe space within which the girls could continue to support each other! It was incredible.

Hands down, girls group is always one of the best parts of my week. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s challenging. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re reaching them. Sometimes you feel like you’re absolutely incapable of preventing your girls from growing up with the same trials as you did. But sometimes your girls go and do something like this, and you feel so lucky and so, so proud to be working with them.

November 16 – 20, 2015
My apologies for the lack of updates, folks!

This week we got into some pretty complex topics. We began our session brainstorming the expectations society has for girls, but we got a little side-tracked explaining sexuality. Two of our girls have pretty religious families and they had a mostly nonexistent knowledge base about anything LGBTQ+. We explained as simplistically as possible about different sexualities, focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual identities. These girls’ abilities to absorb information is astounding, but we were definitely hitting a bit of a comprehension wall. It is such a challenge to present information in a simple, non-biased way, while retaining a completely safe space in which the girls are comfortable to agree or dissent as they wish!

November 23 – 27, 2015
Happy Thanksgiving, folks! No girls’ group this week — the girls had the full week off (lucky ducks)!

November 30 – December 4, 2015
We broached the big topic of women in the media today. An attempt to show them a video of a model being photoshopped was thwarted by the peculiarities of middle school internet systems, but they got the gist. It was very interesting to hear their thoughts — they expressed a mixture of anger, disappointment, indignation, and helplessness. What can just one girl do? they seemed to be asking. Which turned into the perfect segue to touch base on the social action project! We ended up following our girls to the lunchroom in search of the principal; we stood in the back of the group as moral support while they asked permission to implement their project. He gave them the opportunity to submit a formal proposal — we will hear back on his approval next week!

In other news, we absorbed a new girl this week. She’s awesome (as they all are), and we can’t wait to get to know her!

December 7 – 11, 2015
This will be our last meeting until February (it’s that finals time of year for us college folks), and I am both excited and sad. Fortunately, however, my co and I will be able to stay with the same group of girls next semester. A lot of girls and a lot of muses aren’t so lucky — they develop a relationship with each other, only to be forced to abandon it and start from scratch next semester. In any case, for our meeting this week we will be having a bit of a celebration. The girls will be working on the final touches of their social action project, and we’ll also have a bit of an anonymous write-down-anything-you-want-to-say-to-us session with a bunch of construction paper pieces and a hat. Stay tuned for a final end-of-the-year post!

January 31 – February 5, 2016
Happy new year! This week we had our first group of the year. It was slightly tumultuous because my co’s schedule changed literally on the morning of group so that she would no longer be able to come to group at this time. Her professor let her miss class this one day, but she now has to switch to another group and I will be assigned a new co-muse. It is not ideal — we put so much time and effort into creating a safe space with the girls our first semester, and switching even one muse out sets us back a few steps. Group this week felt a little bit off. We were happy to see the girls and vice versa, but we just couldn’t quite hit a stride in our discussion. It was also a little overshadowed by the news of my co leaving.

In other news, the girls’ social action project was put on hold over the holidays for several logistical reasons. They are setting up a date some time in the next month to stay after school and implement their project. I am so excited and proud of them for their motivation on this project. My co and I have done little more than guide their next steps — they have been very self-directed this whole time!

February 8-12, 2016
This week marked my first session with my new co-muse. In honor of Valentine’s Day, today we discussed healthy relationships, relationship expectations, and where those expectations come from. At first, it was just crickets: none of the girls wanted to speak up because they felt really awkward talking about dating to us older folks. We eased them into it, and soon had a lively discussion going. At one point, I could sense their frustration with how media (movies, TV, celebrity magazines, and the like) portray romantic relationships, so we decided to totally ditch our lesson plan for the day and instead brainstorm what it would look like if we directed our own rom-coms that portrayed a more “real” relationship, rather than one of the many Hollywood tropes. The girls came up with some awesome ideas! Perhaps we have some budding directors on the way?

February 15 – 19, 2016
No group this week! All the girls are off on February break.

February 22 – 26, 2016
Well, my group dynamic continues to be shaken up — my new co-Muse is no longer able to continue working with us, so I have been assigned a temporary co-Muse for the next two weeks until I am assigned a more permanent partner. Until we get a routine established for this semester, I decided to keep things light; we’re going back to bullying and girlfighting, but with a focus on conflict resolution and being an “upstander” rather than a bystander. I adapted a lesson plan from the Ophelia Project that begins to give girls the vocabulary for talking about bullying: “aggressor” and “target”; “relational aggression”; “verbal aggression”; “physical aggression”. We had a small group of girls this week, so the activities flew by far quicker than normal until we had twenty minutes left and I was out of activities! I drew out the discussion, and then we just chatted for the last quarter of group. We talked a lot about cyber-bullying; the girls and their classmates don’t have many resources available to them at school when they are cyber-bullied. Instead, they have to take it to outside organizations — it’s on them and their parents to deal with. Sometimes I wish I could just change all the systems within which these girls are living with a snap of my fingers, but all I can do is change how my girls interact with those systems, and it’s slow work. Some days, like today, it doesn’t feel like enough, but I suppose it’s something.

February 29 – March 4, 2016
Initially, I’d planned to continue the Ophelia Project curriculum today, but we deferred that for a week or so to work on the girls’ social action project. As the semester progresses, the girls come to group looking more and more tired; I can’t expect them to continue to work on their project outside of group. So today we just printed out quotes and sorted them into piles, then counted them and paper-clipped them into neat stacks. At the beginning of group, we did rose-bud-thorn, and it took us nearly twenty-five minutes because the girls were giggling and getting sidetracked — and we let them, because it’s not healthy to just go-go-go all the time, and it’s wonderful to see them having a good time. Sticking to your lesson plan come heck or high water is not always the best way to go. It’s so important to be in tune with what the girls need, and today, they needed laughter. We were still productive, channelling their energies into their project, but it was more freeform than normal: no heavy questions, no brain-bending discussion. Just pure fun!

March 7 – March 11, 2016
This week was going to be the first time girls’ group met with my new co-Muse. However, the ZipCar very unfortunately was broken and we had no other way of getting to group, so we couldn’t go.

March 14 – March 18, 2016
One of the things people often forget is how challenging volunteering for a group like Hardy Girls is when you don’t have a reliable form of transportation. Most Muses use the ZipCar through the Colby Volunteer Center. But so many people use the ZipCars — CCAK mentors, Muses, students volunteering in schools through the Education Department, etc. — that even though Colby has 3 ZipCars, they’re all fully booked. This week, the car we had booked was broken again. But we were bound and determined to make it to group. We tried to shuffle things around, asking if we could use the CCAK car, looking to see when the other ZipCar reservations ended. Nothing was free! We ended up borrowing a car from one of our friends, and through a muddle of phones dying and car alarms going off, finally made it to group — twenty minutes late. The girls continue to be awesome and patient and flexible, though transportation has been a huge logistical nightmare this year. But we make it work, and meeting with the girls is such a huge reward. Totally worth it.

March 21 – March 25, 2016
Colby College’s Spring Break — no group!

March 28 – April 1, 2016
This week we decided to have a discussion with the girls about dress code! We printed out both the high school and middle school dress codes and just let them go at it — they had a ton to say! Their dress code is relatively strict, with the typical no midriffs, shorts and skirts below the fingertips, no tank tops, etc. However, it is enforced far more strictly on the girls at school, whereas the boys can often wear muscle shirts without repercussion. The girls hadn’t noticed it enforced unevenly among the girls, though often students from other schools tell of unequal reporting of larger or curvier girls. The girls expressed a lot of frustration with the way that their dress code is positioned as a way of eliminating distractions from their education. Not only is this really problematic in its allusions to victim-blaming and rape culture, but the dress code in and of itself distracts from their education — often girls will get sent home early for breaking dress code, even if their shorts are just an inch too short.

April 4 – April 8, 2016
This week was our annual Girls Rock! Conference! We didn’t have group, but most of my girls came and had a blast!

April 11 – April 15, 2016
Since my girls are eighth graders, my co and I decided that addressing how sex-education is taught might be a good, albeit slightly awkward, conversation. So for this week, we structured our lesson around learning about consent and talking about what they think should be taught in sex-ed, and when they think sex-ed should begin. To our surprise, the conversation was really productive and not awkward at all. The girls had so much to say. Their conclusion was that sex-ed should start in middle school because that’s when people really start becoming aware of sex and sexuality. They also determined that sex-ed should include more about consent, sexuality, gender identity, and sexism because making healthy, safe decisions around sex involves more than just STI’s, contraception, and abstinence. The girls really enjoyed the exercise we had for learning about consent — I think it clarified a lot of the “gray area” that they didn’t quite have the language to describe.

April 18 – April 22, 2016
This last week was the girls’ Spring Break, so we didn’t have group.

April 25 – April 29, 2016
This week Colby College held their annual research symposium, CLAS, which changed around all of our class schedules for the week so that we couldn’t go to group. Stay tuned for our last group meeting next week!

May 2 – May 6, 2016
I can hardly believe it, but this was our last week of group! Our hour was mostly taken up by business — highs and lows, applying for the Girls Advisory Board, group evaluations, and social action project check-ins. I asked the girls if there was anything I or my many co-Muses could have done better; they all said, “Nothing!” and “You were perfect!” Working with these girls has been such a gift — they were always engaged, interested, passionate, and energetic. That’s not to totally idealize girls’ groups and say they’re all sunshine and roses all the time; that’s patently untrue. Half the time it feels like I’m just muddling along and they can totally tell. But on the last day, when we exchange hugs and email addresses (though I have my doubts they’ll ever email me), it kinda feels like everything happened exactly the way it needed to. For our program-wide evaluations, we asked the girls what they thought was the biggest change in themselves since starting Hardy Girls. My girls’ answers? Confidence.

I’m so, so proud of the women they’ve become.