Finding the Center Action Commitment Updates: Finding the Center 2011 closed with an Action-Planning Session by Dr. Debbie Storrs and Dr. Traci Craig of the University of Idaho. Dr. Storrs and Dr. Craig explained the notion of the local superhero—a member of the community who takes selfless action within his or her personal spheres of influence to challenge inequality or incivility. Conference participants were asked to identify their own potential spheres of influence and to commit to a local superhero action in a written Action Commitment statement. We’re proud that seventy-four percent of our attendees made these Commitments. Now that we’ve had our Finding the Center Follow-Up at the November 5th meeting, this will be the last Action Commitment Update.
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This article was written for the October 2011 newsletter by Janice Weesner. Weesner’s Action Commitment pledged to support and expand the Girls Club at Lena Whitmore Elementary in Moscow, ID, where she works as a second grade teacher. With the help of the principal, the school counselor, and several other teachers, the Girls Club became “Kids on the Move,” a group for both girls and boys from economically disadvantaged environments. Weesner attended the Finding the Center workshops for Educators.
I have been a part of the Girls Club at Lena Whitmore Elementary since its inception in 2009–2010. Originally this was an intervention that was developed to help low-achieving girls. We determined that a major contributing factor to the group’s lack of success in the area of reading had to do with incredibly low self-esteem. We wanted to create a non-threatening environment outside of the school day that would give this group a chance to build their self-esteem. Our hope was that this self-worth development would later translate into academic areas. The activities during the first year were varied, but consisted of many challenging games as well as arts and crafts. We also addressed hygiene, and provided healthy snacks. We started with four girls in second grade, with four teachers and the school counselor acting as leaders for the group.
In our second year of the Girls Club, we expanded to include first and third grade students for a total of six girls, and we added a first grade teacher, a third grade teacher and the principal as leaders. Our focus remained on confidence-building activities, but we also expanded the personal hygiene lessons, providing kits that included combs, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste. We also added supplies of clean clothes that children could use if we saw they were wearing the same dirty clothes repeatedly. This year the leaders also read Ruby Payne’s “Framework for Understanding Poverty.” The book highlighted many of the socio-economic needs of our group and was a precursor to the changes to come in 2011–2012.
After attending the Finding the Center Conference in April 2011, I knew I wanted to encourage our group to expand to include impoverished boys. There was much talk about leading a separate group, and whether we could pull it off with all our other teaching responsibilities. Some felt that we, as women, could not provide the role models that young boys would need. Others felt that any time and attention we could give this group would be beneficial. Ultimately, we decided we could not run two separate groups to the level we wanted—meeting weekly—with all our other commitments. Thus, a new group was formed: This year we changed our name, and our focus, to try to meet the needs of both boys and girls in the economically disadvantaged group.
“Kids on the Move” was created out of a desire to reach girls and boys. We also wanted to move away from arts and crafts to focus on deficits we saw within the group. Many of these students had poor hygiene, and they were also a very sedentary group, that as a whole did not have as many nutritional opportunities. Consequently our motto this year is: “Inspiring kids to be happy, healthy, and confident through health and nutrition activities, service learning projects, and movement experiences.” Activities have or may include qi gong self-massage; yoga for kids; raking leaves and shoveling snow for the elderly; visiting Backyard Harvest; making edible veggies based on the book “How Are You Peeling,” which addresses feelings and nutrition; making smoothies/juices; creative movement activities; using pedometers to measure the playground; obstacle courses; 4-square; snow-shoeing in East City Park; and Zumba dances.
We have expanded to include eight different adults who rotate acting as lead and supporting teachers for the group. This includes the following educators from Lena Whitmore Elementary: Kendra McMillan (principal), Betty Heidelberger (counselor), Diane Hughes (1st grade), Janice Weesner (2nd grade), Renee McNally (2nd grade), Dawn Warren (2nd grade intern), Cheryl Gillette (3rd grade), and Tiffany Ringo (3rd grade). The number of children participating in the group has grown to ten. We hope to solicit funding for our group this year in the form of grants to help offset the costs that teachers are paying out-of-pocket.