We just finished our first week of camp, and a lot happened. Monday flew by and dragged out at the same time, with a rush for all of us to find our classes, learn all the names, and start facilitating STEM. It was engineering week, and I was teaching to tenth graders the first two days and then ninth graders the second two.
On Monday the lesson was more of an engineering challenge: get a ping pong ball into a cup in the middle of a six foot circle without getting any limbs inside the circle. At first some of the girls were hesitant to begin, and many got frustrated by the challenge posed. But by the end of class each team of girls was determined to demonstrate their mechanism in front of the rest of class, and each team proved successful.
Tuesday brought a second engineering challenge: design a suit to protect a water balloon from nails and thumbtacks using a variety of materials with different costs on a budget of five dollars. This time the girls were quick to get excited by the activity, and were so successful that we had to make the challenge harder until finally, after several rounds, two balloons popped. There was a slight issue in the middle of the lesson when we could not fill up the water balloons, so to fill the time we had a discussion about feminism, women in STEM/ lack of representation, and what it means to be an engineer. I was amazed by the girls’s willingness to open up about experiences where male peers had made them feel less than or had degraded the women discussed during class.
Wednesday and Thursday I repeated the two challenges with the ninth graders, who were even more enthusiastic and eager to work in their teams to solve the problems. We had complete success with the circle of pong challenge, and almost complete success with the balloon suit challenge.
Thursday is when the challenges of leading a three hour lesson really set in. It was the very end of the lesson, about thirty minutes left, and the ninth graders were not having it. We usually have support or volunteers in the classrooms with us, but mine had left to take lunch and so it was just me in front of 25 girls who did not want to listen or participate. I started to get really frustrated because I remember being in class and getting yelled at by teachers and I definitely did not want to repeat that feeling for anybody else. Instead, I decided to have a conversation about how they were acting with them.
Girls Inc emphasizes that we are facilitators, not teachers, and oftentimes the way we see the difference between the two is in how incidences are handled. Teachers tend to punish, and direct it at them, while facilitators discipline, and it is something that is done with them. As easy as it is to fall into the trap of yelling and reprimanding, I wanted to try and work with them to find a solution.
One of the ways that girls are rewarded at the Eureka camp is with Beyonce bucks, which can be used to buy small things like stickers at a “store” open one day a week. Girls really want Beyonce bucks and so I figured it would be a good way to frame the discussion. I told the girls that I usually like to give everyone a Beyonce buck at the end of class, but today I wasn’t so sure. I asked them to raise their hands if they thought they deserved Beyonce bucks.
As I was asking this question I started to doubt the results. I thought every girl would raise her hand because obviously they all want them. To my surprise only about half the class agreed. I asked them why. One girl raised her hand and said that they weren’t respectful today. I then asked the girls to raise their hands if they thought they were respectful in class. About half raised their hands. Then I asked girls to raise their hands if they thought they were disrespectful in class today. The other half raised their hands.
At this point I felt good about the acknowledgement of their behavior. I agreed with how girls had raised their hands. I explained to them that it is hard to stand up in front of people you don’t know well and try to teach while nobody pays attention. The girls were silent and nodded. We ended up having a great discussion about respect, the lessons, and how the girls were going to act the next time I was with them. In the end I did give all the girls Beyonce bucks, but made it clear that going forward I wouldn’t just hand them out to everyone at the end of class.
I was feeling really good going into the afternoon, where I was with the tenth graders during an enrichment class, which happened to be focused on magic. This feeling continued until during an activity I heard a girl say the phrase “no homo”. I stood there in shock at the thought of a fifteen year old saying that in a filled room while nobody said anything. I turned to the other support in the room and we decided to address it once we left the activity. On the walk back to the main area I stopped the girls so we could talk. Once they all quieted down I began a very short but to the point talk. I told them that the phrase was not okay to say, that being LGBT should not be used as an insult, and that the next time I heard it they would have to speak to one of my supervisors at the camp.
At the end of Thursday I was feeling relatively bad about camp. I didn’t like having serious conversations, especially with high schoolers. I realized that I had handled it to the best of my ability and that I have to keep in mind that these girls come from a variety of backgrounds, and so while I will always address these issues I need to remember how to do it in a way that eliminates the threat of them happening again.