by Martha Lawlor –
Last week 120 Georgetown 4th and 5th grade girls conducted earthquake tests on a model town they’d built, learning about the skills that seismologists use in their jobs. Next week they will design a device that collects plastics to save animals that feed in the oceans, learning what Marine Engineers do. These are just two of the weekly projects in Girlstart’s curricula that run each semester, introducing science and technology in STEM-related fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) to the young girls enrolled in the Girlstart after-school program.
Girlstart conducts free, weekly after-school programs in six (soon to be seven) Georgetown Title I elementary schools. The purpose of these programs is to build the girls’ skills in collaboration, creative problem solving, and critical thinking, as well as exposing them to STEM careers and activities. In May 2017 Seeds of Strength (SoS) awarded a grant of $10,000 to support their after-school programs in Georgetown. The grant money will be used to purchase supplies and materials for the projects, pay wages to the two college students who run each after-school program, and provide snacks for the girls.
By focusing their programs in Title I schools (a school qualifies for the Title I status if more than 50% of the enrollment is eligible for the free and reduced meals program), Girlstart reaches girls who traditionally do not attend college, and often tend to work in minimum-wage jobs. Research indicates that the girls who participate in the program are more likely to take science and math courses in middle and high school and to show an interest in pursuing STEM careers in college.
Girlstart has 37 after-school programs operating in seven school districts in central Texas, fifteen more in Houston, and a waiting list of school systems that would like to have the program replicated in their schools. In the 2016-17 school year, 57% of the 2,000 participants identified as Latina, 14% African-American, 13% white, 5% Asian-American and the remainder in other, smaller racial groups.
Girlstart programs work because they are student-centered and incorporate research-backed methods to engage and empower all girls:
• All girl environment
• Collaboration, not competition
• Highly engaging, fun and interactive
• Confidence building, socio-emotional development
• Breadth of content and activities
• Engaging the under-represented
Girlstart cultivates an environment where risk is rewarded, curiosity is encouraged, and creativity is expected. The financial support from SoS to Girlstart helps to improve the lives of young girls in Georgetown, today and in the future.