The tenth year of The Girlhood Project really began today with the first of the Girls’ Group sessions. We were immediately confronted with a deviation from our established plans, something which we in the project spend a great deal of time learning to expect and preparing ourselves for. Fast thinking students had to maneuver around the impact that forces outside of our control had on the pacing of the evening. But even with an unexpectedly late dinner and atypical drop off and pick up schedules to work around the groups managed to stay on track, and kick the whole experience off on a positive note.
A trail of excited energy led up to the arrival of the middle schoolers. As with all years many participants knew each other already, and many didn’t. Some of the middle schoolers were returning from previous years, and others were there for the first time. The groups were structured around the ideal of creating total inclusivity, the process of which is, of course, never ending. Both groups made sure to dedicate time to team building and getting to know you activities, many of which were adapted from the ones done by the college students when we all initially came together.
The tone of each room was also set by the creation of norms, or collectively established behavioral guidelines developed to ensure the well being of every participant. Norms are rules that every college student, every middle schooler, and every TA has the opportunity to help create. Deciding on group rules together affords us all a sense of power and independence, without sacrificing safety or accountability. A set of rules that every individual is required to g
ive their approval for and then follow also helps to establish a sense of group cohesion.
Eating has proven to be another crucial component to developing the Girlhood environment. Sharing a meal is a normalized social activity that serves as a bonding tool and an equalizer. The ritual of kicking Girls’ Group sessions off with a shared meal is a long standing one, and one that helps to establish a friendly atmosphere. Even when we were forced to shift our group dinner from the beginning of the session to the middle we still managed to maintain the spirit of the experience. Whether dinner was accompanied by a dance party, as it was in one group this evening, or by conversation, which dominated the other, it’s always more than just a simple meal.
After the session ended one returning college student remarked that even though this was our first time all together it felt the way the second or third sessions had in previous years, citing this as proof of the positive impact of the newly introduced weekend intensive component of the course. We certainly gained a sense of comfort around each other much more quickly than we might have otherwise. And tonight we just began to discover what the applications of that comfort could potentially be. If this first day was even a slight indicator then we have an incredible couple of months ahead of us.