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Building a Community within STEM: An unexpected result from our Latina SciGirls program

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In 2016, the Children’s Science Center?was selected as one of sixteen science centers from across the U.S. to receive a grant from Twin Cities Public Television and the National Science Foundation to implement a program for young Latinas over the course of three years in conjunction with PBS SciGirls. We were confident that we could provide the girls in the program a fun, unique educational experience, but the unintended outcome of creating a supportive and caring community for these young girls, and the overall positive impact on staff and volunteers exceeded our expectations.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics 2012 report, Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study, only 3.5% of bachelor’s degrees in STEM were earned by Hispanic females in 2010. This systemic underachievement in STEM can be attributed to several issues including: limited awareness, opportunities, and resources; existing perceptions about STEM; and lack of family involvement. Our Latina SciGirls program to begin tackling this important issue.

Latina SciGirls is a free program for Hispanic girls in grades 3-5 and their families that takes place twice annually over the course of several weeks at the Children’s Science Center Lab in partnership with local Title I elementary schools in Northern Virginia. Latina SciGirls is a culturally responsive program designed to address barriers that prevent Hispanic girls and their families from engaging in STEM and to promote a positive STEM identity. Critical elements of the program provide young Latinas with opportunities to engage with Latina STEM professionals to foster mentoring relationships and a parent education component to support their daughters’ interest and achievement in STEM.

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Latina SciGirls program begins with an open house event held at the elementary school. Students, parents, and families meet program staff and the Latina STEM mentors while participating in hands-on STEM activities. Each subsequent weekly session covers a different STEM topic: physical sciences, environmental science, engineering, forensics, biology, and chemistry. The Fiesta de la Familia event celebrates the end of the session with families, girls, program staff and the Latina STEM mentors for a night of hands-on STEM activities. The goals of the program are to increase access for Latinas and their families to positive STEM programming, and promote positive STEM identity development. To ensure regular attendance of the Latina SciGirls program, the Center provides complimentary dinner and transportation each week for the duration of the program.

Over the course of each session, the Center’s staff watch as the girls’ confidence in STEM grow. Our staff take pride in their ability to create a warm and safe environment where the girls feel empowered to take risks and share their thinking while exploring STEM. The girls are introduced to female role models that they would not otherwise encounter. Having access to professional Latina mentors who share their own stories of success and failure has proven beneficial to the program. Although the program focuses on STEM, the girls practice working collaboratively, and building relationships among peers and adults — important life skills for every child’s future. We hope the girls take this initial spark and continue their investigations into the world around them, especially as they enter the crucial middle-school years when STEM interest statistically plummets. We believe each girl leaves the program open to new experiences, ideas, and people, with increased confidence and a stronger sense of self. Many of the program’s alumna seek out additional STEM experiences to grow their newfound interest.

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What started out as a program opportunity has evolved into a passion project. The Children’s Science Center has served over 100 young Latinas since 2016 and is grateful to Twin Cities Public Television, General Motors, and Leidos for their sponsorship. Latinos comprise 17% of Northern Virginia’s population. With this population steadily increasing, the Latina SciGirls program will continue to be in high demand. As the Center moves forward with the capital campaign to build a full-scale science center that will more adequately serve the region’s families, we also look forward to expanding the reach of significant programs like Latina SciGirls.

At the core of the Children’s Science Center’s educational mission is a dedication to meeting the needs of all children, in particular reaching underserved and economically disadvantaged children who traditionally do not have access to private enrichment opportunities. The Center impacts over 70,000 annually with its community programs and the Children’s Science Center Lab. The vision of the Center is to build the region’s first world-class children’s science museum on donated land in Dulles, VA.

The Center is grateful for the enthusiastic participation of a community of volunteer mentors, who have come in to lead and facilitate our STEM activities and tell their own stories of success and failure. STEM mentors have included women from NASA, USDA, PBS, FBI, and the Virginia House of Delegates. There are many opportunities through the Center to volunteer and make an impact on our local community. Information can be found here.

Thinking Beyond Barbie: Empowering Girls in Greater Washington

Michelle Obama.

Sheryl Sandberg.

Oprah Winfrey.

Mrs. Potato Head?

This unlikely combination of women has more in common than meets the eye: Each plays a role (whether consciously or not) in inspiring confidence in young girls to pursue their career ambitions, no matter how big. There are dozens of other female leaders who do so much each day to empower young women, yet according to a recent study, one pop culture icon is not likely to make the cut: Barbie.

A recent study coming out of Oregon State University suggests that little girls playing with Barbie “believe there are more careers for boys than for themselves” — a contrast from girls playing with Mrs. Potato Head, who see an equal range of career opportunities for girls and boys.

Of course, more research on this topic is needed in order fully to understand the impact of dolls on girls’ aspirations, but one key takeaway is that we must inspire confidence in girls so they don’t hesitate to think “big” and think beyond the stereotypes that hold them back. We can do this not only through the toys we buy for our children, but also through the stories we tell, and the activities in which we participate.

For several Catalogue for Philanthropy charities, such as Girls on the Run (DC and Montgomery County) and The Washington School for Girls, inspiring confidence in girls is a central part of their mission. Find out below how you can show your support, and stay tuned to the Catalogue for Philanthropy blog this month as we celebrate Women’s History Month by highlighting other important women’s issues that are a key focus for some of our charities.

Girls on the Run

The Catalogue for Philanthropy is proud to have two local Girls on the Run Councils in our network of charities. Using the sport of running as basis for inspiration and motivation, GOTR program participants meet twice per week in small teams where they learn life skills while celebrating the joy of movement. At each season’s conclusion, participants complete a 5k running event, giving them a tangible sense of achievement as well as a framework for setting and achieving life goals.

Girls on the Run — DC: GOTR-DC has a variety of volunteer opportunities available, from one-time volunteer opportunities to coaching for a 10-week season. GOTR-DC is currently looking for volunteers for the GW Classic 10 Miler on April 13th, and is also taking names for those interested in coaching for the Fall 2014 season.

Interested in supporting with a donation? For $185, you can cover a full scholarship for 1 runner; $750: running shoes for an entire team; $3,000: a full scholarship for a full team next season (great idea for a corporate fundraiser!)

Girls on the Run of Montgomery County is also looking for coaches and one-time volunteers. Check out the volunteer page for more detail on specific needs.

Interested in supporting with a donation? $100 will cover a full scholarship for 1 season; $500: running shoes for one team of 15 girls; $1000: race fees for 75 parents to run alongside their daughters. Also, don’t forget about SoleMates, which lets you run a marathon or a triathlon while raising money for MoCo’s Girls on the Run Council.

The Washington School for Girls

The Washington School for Girls is an all-girl, grades 4-8, Catholic school located in Anacostia. Its mission is to offer a solid and holistic education to young girls, and it is committed to believing in their gifts, talents and potential. WSG offers a range of volunteer opportunities: from one-time visits – where volunteers participate in a career fair, leadership series presentation or fundraising event – to weekly tutoring, hosting student clubs during Extended Day and office support.

Interested in supporting with a donation? $100 covers 10 books for the Reading Circle; $500: 1 laptop for a WMSG teacher; $1000: transportation for 3 field trips for 1 class.

We hope you’ll support these wonderful organizations and their missions to empower girls in our region!

Guest Post: Girls on the Run

Today’s post comes from Girls on the Run – DC whose program teaches over 2,000 girls in DC’s eight wards about self-esteem and healthy living through running.

by Kelsey Lyle, Program Coordinator GOTR-DC

“My daughter, who usually complains about walking even a few blocks, came home last week after running almost 2 miles and was so energized and proud of herself that she asked to run around our block a few times. Running a 5K seemed impossible to her when she started, but now she’s figured out that she can run further and longer than she ever knew. I’m looking forward to an improved outlook on fitness, which I hope will serve her throughout her life.” – Dawn, GOTR-DC Parent of 3rd Grader

This is one of many stories that parents of Girls on the Run DC participants can tell. Girls on the Run DC is an afterschool program that inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. The program takes place over the course of 10 weeks and concludes with a 5k event to celebrate the hard work and accomplishments of the girls in the program.

Our volunteer coaches are the key ingredient to our success as an organization. Volunteer coaches empower girls to appreciate who they are and encourage them to take on a healthy lifestyle. They are what make the program happen- a role that is a blend of teacher, mentor, and friend. Each practice session offers a lesson on topics that include peer pressure, self-esteem, cooperation, and more. In addition to running during practice, the girls are asked to give a thoughtful reflection to the topic of the day. At the end of the program, each team creates and completes a community service project.

This Fall season Girls on the Run DC is in more than 50 schools and has over 70 Girls on the Run teams. Each year we serve over 2,000 girls in the DC metropolitan area. Approximately 60% of our sites receive scholarships, and we, as an organization, fundraise on their behalf.

We rely on volunteers to assist with many different aspects of our organization. We need over 200 volunteers to make our November 24th race day possible. If you would like to help out with Girls on the Run 5K as a race day volunteer please sign up on our website: http://www.gotrdc.org/get-involved/volunteer.

Find out more about Girls on the Run DC at our website, or Like us on Facebook!

photo: Emily Weiss (emilyweissphotography.com)

Your Giving Pledge

This week, Sara Blakely made philanthropy headlines by becoming the first female billionaire to sign the Giving Pledge – a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals to give a majority of their wealth to charity. It seems fitting that the first woman joins this elite group the week before Mother’s Day – a time of year to think about the important women and female role models in our lives. While eight other philanthropists also signed the Pledge this week, Blakely received the most attention – and not just for signing the pledge.

It was only in March of last year that Blakely joined the elite group of global billionaires – as well as an even smaller group of self-made female billionaires. (Only 2% of billionaires across the world who are women, the majority of whom inherited their wealth.) With those odds, it’s an achievement indeed that even one sits among the wealthiest individuals who have joined the Pledge and made a life-long commitment to philanthropy.

In reading Blakely’s pledge letter, I was inspired by the way that she recognized her privilege as a woman born into a country where girls can aspire to any career choice and have the freedom to pursue it. This is not the case in many countries around the world.

I have so much gratitude for being a woman in America. I never lose sight that I was born in the right country, at the right time. And, I never lose sight of the fact that there are millions of women around the world who are not dealt the same deck of cards upon their birth. Simply because of their gender, they are not given the same chance that I had to create my own success and follow my dreams. It it for those women that I make this pledge.

I was also inspired by her dedication to philanthropy since founding Spanx and focuses on the empowerment of women and girls across the globe.

I am committed to the belief that we would all be in a much better place if half the human race (women) were empowered to prosper, invent, be educated, start their own businesses, run for office – essentially be given the chance to soar! I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment. While many of the world’s natural resources are being depleted, one is waiting to be unleashed – women.

You don’t have to be a millionaire or billionaire like Sara Blakely to make a difference in the lives of women and girls – here in DC or around the world. Many of Catalogue’s nonprofits work to empower women – those who have been abused, exploited, ignored, or just not given the chance to thrive:

Women Thrive Worldwide advocates for programs that free women from poverty and violence.

District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) provides safe housing to survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.

FAIR Girls is a girls’ empowerment organization keeping girls safe from exploitation.

The Women’s Collective supports girls, women, families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Girls on the Run (DC and Montgomery County) teaches girls self-esteem and healthy living through running.

More In The News …

(We’re doubling up on the news-front this week. Comment away with any additions.)

Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade’ (New York Times): “Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year [...] and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it [...] Joblessness was the main culprit pushing more Americans into poverty, economists said. Last year, about 48 million people ages 18 to 64 did not work even one week out of the year, up from 45 million in 2009.” And when it comes to the jobs bill, could these bleak figures make a case for or against it? Continue reading

Women’s History Month

We are nearly to end of March — and thus, near to the conclusion of Women’s History Month. And in visiting the National Park Service exhibit on Eleanor Roosevelt, this particular quotation caught my attention:

Champion of domestic social reform, economic justice, and human rights, Eleanor believed citizenship demanded participation, saying “We will be the sufferers if we let great wrongs occur without exerting ourselves to correct them.”

This month does indeed focus on women’s history, but in remembering and honoring great women leaders of the past, we must strive to give women and girls the resources to become great leaders in the future. Since the successful passage of the 19th Amendment, and since Roosevelt’s tenure in the White House and the United Nations, this country has made incredible progress: in education for women, in representation, in leadership. Yet countless women still need and deserve the resources to make their own personal progress — which is why non-profits focused on women and girls are such vital parts of our community:

Continue reading