Creating Girl Leaders Through Challenges & Collaboration

by | Aug 5, 2014

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Girls explore the water off Rocky Hill School during the weeklong GLC camp. Credit: EG News

How do you get girls to feel comfortable enough with themselves that they want to take leadership roles? It’s a big question these days. Rhode Island’s new Girls Leadership Collaborative has some answers. Their recent weeklong day camp at Rocky Hill School brought together girls of different ages and abilities and got them thinking about the world beyond themselves with the goal of making them stronger.

The idea, says co-founder Meg Stowe, is to help girls ages 10 through 17 get through the rough waters of adolescence as best they can – “stacking the deck” in their favor.

The way you do that is by offering girls experiences that are physically and mentally challenging and encourage cooperative learning. For the camp in July, they started the week at a ropes course, the sort of activity that is often used at the end of a camp or program.

But, Meg and her partner, Rachel Campbell, decided to use the ropes course to jumpstart the week. It worked, said Stowe, creating the kind of supportive, cooperative environment you might take a week to get doing more typical activities.

“If you’re uncomfortable on the ropes course, that same uncomfortable feeling may happen when you’re in school when someone’s doing something that you don’t agree with,” said Campbell. “You want to be able to stand up and say, ‘That’s making me uncomfortable.’ That to us is one of the ultimate goals of this week is to understand that, yes, there are going to be things that make you uncomfortable. How do you communicate that in an effective way?”

“When people were scared, we all cheered each other on,” said one camper about the ropes course. “I was really surprised I could do it.”

“We dispel a lot of myths,” said Stowe. “Introverts, extraverts – there’s no research that extraverts make better leaders. They’re more apt to be selected for leadership activities but there’s no correlation from the research that says they’re more effective at that. Giving them these tools basically affirms whoever they are is ok and you can lead in many, many ways.”

“It’s been fun,” said Yin Agbontien of Providence, one of the youth leaders. “I’ve met a lot of girls who are really, really excited to try something new in this all-girls place and learning that girls can actually do something, be somebody, without having anybody judge them. They learn from each other and not just from us.”

Leader Ianthe Hershberger talked about one girl whose mother had said would not go swimming or kayaking.

“She was the first person to go out on the kayaks with me,” said Hershberger. “So, she pushed through that initial fear to have a great experience. She’s swimming with her friends right now and really really enjoying it. She’s surprised she’s having fun, which is exactly what you want them to feel. You want them to understand that beyond that fear is something great and something waiting for you.”

In addition to the summer camp, Girls Leadership Collaborative is offering “Girls in the Lead” service learning programs. You can learn more about GLC here

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