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The GIRL Effect

The GIRL Effect

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Female novelist Ayn Rand once wrote, "The question isn't who's going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."

In it's fourth year, The Partnership for Appalachian Girls Education (PAGE) program returns to Madison County this summer empowering young women through education.

"It's an amazing place and an incredible opportunity that these girls get to have," said Mariana Zindel, Duke University undergraduate. "I feel so lucky to be able to be here and to actually make a difference in someone's life."

The program is a partnership between Duke University and the Madison County School System aimed at educating and elevating Appalachian girls in Madison County.

This year around 50 girls from Hot Springs, Spring Creek and Laurel will spend their summer vacations with a team of Duke University undergraduate students who come to Madison County to live, teach, and learn for nine weeks. Though their home-base is Hot Springs Elementary, their classroom is only limited by their imagination.

Through several educational activities from digital storytelling to improving literacy skills through a reading and writing program, students are empowered to harness the key to their own success-education.

"The goal is really to empower girls into believing in themselves, improving their literacy so that they can reach a higher education and open their eyes to more opportunities," said Zindel.

Launched in 2010, the program, formerly the Spring Creek Literacy Program, emerged based on the childhood experiences of it's founder, Deborah Hicks.

Hicks, a first generation college student, grew up much like her students.

Educated in public schools and from rural Appalachia, Hicks rose from her humble beginnings to earn a doctorate in Education and Human Development from Harvard University in 1988.

"I think (the program) gives them a sense that they can achieve their dreams and they can be whoever they want to be if they just stick with education-that is their ticket," said Hicks.

Through a method coined the "Girl Effect," student's participate in learning activities that foster 21st century literacy skills, critical thinking and leadership.

"It's basically a trickle-down effect," said Bernice Kwan, Duke Undergrad. "You educate these young women and you empower them. We believe if you can push them to love learning, love education-they will go on to a higher education and educate those around them to strengthen their community, strengthen their children...The girl effect- you empower a woman, you empower a community."

The program has since expanded their reach to educate nutritional awareness through a new farm to table initiative, and introduce students to the entrepreneurial world through mock start-up projects.

"I think most of these girls are very intelligent, they have shown that," said Zindel. "It is just a matter of encouraging them to be proud of that and encouraging them to pursue that...We tell them that they can and they finally believe that they can and you see how much that changes them."

A change that for many comes as they are encouraged to open up their lives through one of the most expressive tools-digital story telling.

During the summer each student writes and records a script, story boards the sequence and uses Final Cut Express to produce and edit their creation - a two-three minute film that provides a glimpse into the life of girl growing up in rural Madison County.

And the end product is nothing but breathtaking.

"These stories portray just how important and how beautiful each of them are," said Zindel.

Some she said are so touching they bring a tear to her eye.

The innocence and honesty that pours from the imagination of the young girls can be inspiring.

Like 12-year-old Brooklyn Phillips who tells her tale of three generations - herself, her father and her paw-paw, through the eyes of a redhead.

"You get to be yourself," said Phillips, of Spring Creek. "You don't have to try and act different and try to be someone you're not. You just get to express your feelings."

At the end of the summer each student will have a chance to display their film at an exhibition held at area churches.

One of the older girls in the class dreams of being a baker.

Through PAGE's entrepreneurship class, students created a business model for Appalachian Sweet Treats.

Today business is booming with two bake sales in July.

"So we try and help her achieve that dream by giving her the tools, technologies and understanding of entrepreneurship that she needs to achieve that dream," said Hicks.

Throughout the summer, girls enjoy healthy outdoor activities and educational field trips from visiting a local organic farm to what life will be like on a college campus.

Only two weeks into the program and the "girl effect" has already taken effect for young Phillips- her dream today is to go to college to become a nurse.

"They encourage us," Phillips said as she points to two of her favorite Duke students. "Everyone encourages each other."

Encouragement that one day may journey back to the valleys of Spring Creek- trickling down once again the power of the girl effect.

Through several educational activities from digital storytelling to improving literacy skills through a reading and writing program, students are empowered to harness the key to their own success-education.

Liz shows her private investigators badge, made as part of their journeys as detectives while reading the Nancy Drew series.

PAGE is a partnership between Duke University and the Madison County School System aimed at educating and elevating Appalachian girls in Madison County.

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