Hello and welcome to the official website of G.O.A.L.S (Girls’ Optimal Academic Learning Society) which is currently exclusive to Oak Grove Middle School in Concord, CA. Each week, we will be posting blogs to track our progress and publicize our activities. However, this first blog will be a general recap and overview of our program. As noted in the “Our Story” section of our website.

G.O.A.L.S was founded with the intention to optimize education and the school environment for middle school girls by providing a safe space for both academic purposes as well as discussing relevant, personal issues. For the first few weeks, we have taken a look at various themes, the most notable being: advocation, leadership, women representation in politics, bullying, and so forth. As our program has grown from the initial 3 girls to 15-20 each week, we have increasingly been able to play group activities and build a “sisterhood.” In addition, we provide journals and thought-provoking prompts for the girls to complete that relate to the theme at hand. However, this club is not solely a serious environment for we ensure each week is a fun meeting! As one of our girls said, “Each week I look forward to Tuesday’s [because of G.O.A.L.S].”

This club has also taken a community service direction, but to the girls’ discretion (not the leaders). We have seen growing interest in helping out in the community from the girls themselves and in 2017 we plan to take steps in that direction. The girls remind us each meeting how much they enjoy this program and also notify us when they would like a change or a repeat of certain activities; it is clear that our wonderful members run the program. None of this would be plausible without the immense help of the Oak Grove administration, but more specifically Ms. Sechrist and Ms. Filios, as well as the PTA. Without their support, we would have been unable to pursue or even establish G.O.A.L.S. Our hope is to pass on leadership to our current members so when we (the mentors) depart for college, they will be able to carry on the program. This club is simply an embryonic structure, but the future ahead looks successful and prosperous.

-Aava Farhadi

GOALS: A Year in Review

GOALS: A Year in Review

It is unbelievable: the school year is over. Tuesday, May 30, 2017 marked the final meeting for the 2016-2017 GOALS program. As many have said; “Every end is a new beginning.”, and it’s certain that the end of our first year concludes merely one chapter of this novel. Endings are a time for reflection, with a hint of sadness and nostalgia seeping through, but it is crucial to take this opportunity to track one’s progress and make adjustments.

On October 4, 2016, the first GOALS meeting was held. Walking into Oak Grove Middle School, we were greeted with 3 friendly and eager faces. They were all shy yet curious to see what this program was about. However, after a few meetings they began to break out of their comfort zones and became active participants in conversations around politics, race, gender, and equality. A typical day not only included crucial discussions about pressing issues, but also homework help (specifically concentrated in math and science), journaling, and icebreaker activities. All three of these stimulated collaboration, bonding, and learning within the group. Helping young girls flourish in their STEM classes was a rewarding experience because when we were their age, it was more of a taboo to show a mere interest in these subjects.

Fast-forward a few meetings later and soon the room was filled with 15-20 girls each week. The discussion was never-ending, the meetings often passed the allotted time, for the energy was unstoppable. The girls opened up to the group, but also to us individually. They confided in us about personal issues and through this, we developed a bond with each of them. However, they comforted us in difficult times. For example, after the inauguration, all of us in the room felt the impact and we empathized with one another. They were scared, but so were we. It was truly a bonding moment where we held each other up, when all we wanted to do was fall.
These girls have shaped us through our second year in high school, and exposed us to the problems and challenges happening in our own backyard that directly affects them. In turn, this pushed us to take action on their behalf which began with the Safe Haven Resolution. This resolution’s intentions are to protect immigrants within the designated school by denying ICE access to any of their files or immigration status. We spoke to voice the girls’ experiences, such as when a seventh-grader told us her deep worries about being separated from her family if ICE was to make an appearance. Most recently, we all spoke at the Walnut Creek City Council meeting on the issue of NUSD, which is a movement that wants to secede from the larger MDUSD district. Members of Northgate UNCapped (began by a Northgate High School educator Mrs. Honey) believe that this secession is not only highly exclusive and limits the diversity and programs available, but it also damages schools, including Oak Grove, that are located right outside of the proposed NUSD borders. Again, at the meeting we spoke on the behalf of the girls and noted how NUSD would negatively impact them. Specifically, the fight against NUSD has been an uphill battle, but that does not discourage us or others vigorously opposing it. Whether rallying against the NUSD petition or rallying for the Safe Haven Resolution, these girls have inspired us to take a stand for what we believe in. In a position of privilege and power, it is our duty to speak for those whose voices are silenced.

Our work with GOALS would not be feasible without the support of the leaders in our community, notably Mrs. Cherise Khaund and Mrs. Meg Honey. Mrs. Khaund, a MDUSD advocate and parent volunteer, educated us and expanded our knowledge about pressing issues, including the Safe Haven Resolution and NUSD, and helped us articulate our own experiences. She works tirelessly and has been an inspiration to us without her, we would not have been able to reach out to our community on such large platforms.

Mrs. Honey, who teaches Advanced Placement United States History at Northgate High School, plays a key role in local and widespread activism. As mentioned, she began the movement known as Northgate UNCapped which is a group advocating against the NUSD movement. For us, she has been an exceptional resource, an inspiration and mentor meeting with us to discuss ways to improve GOALS; she has come to us with a variety of ideas, plans, and guest speakers to facilitate the growth of our program.

We would also like to thank MDEA for honoring us with the “Outstanding Volunteer Organization” award. That award truly goes to our girls, family, friends, and everyone who has stood by us in our journey.

Lastly , this would truthfully not be possible without the initial approval and encouragement from the Oak Grove Middle School Administration, but most directly Ms. Filios (the Principal) and Ms. Sechrist (the Vice Principal). In May of 2016, Aava sent an email pitching the idea for GOALS; by August, they had approved the program. We are all so thankful that they put their trust in three sophomore girls from Northgate High School with a big dream and continue to support our program, providing snacks, guidance, and endless support. We have plans to meet with them in August in order to ensure another successful, prosperous school year filled with learning, respect, empathy, and love. As Malcolm X once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Thank You MDEA

THANK YOU Mt Diablo Education Association for the Outstanding Volunteer Organization award. We are truly honored.

Ellora, Mrs.Honey, Ashley, and Aava

The MDEA Outstanding Volunteer Organization Award

Aava, Ashley, Mrs. Khaund, and Ellora

Ashley, Aava, and Ellora celebrating the award

Ellora, Aava, Ashley, and Dr.Weinstock

Ms. Sechrist, Ellora, Ashley, and Aava

G.O.A.L.S – 5/2/17

This week at GOALS, we decided to utilize this meeting to get feedback from the girls and to really focus on our recycling project and put it in full swing once we return from break. However, we began with a fun activity that we have done in a prior meeting, but with a small change. This time, we passed out a Skittle to each girl, but told them to not eat it yet. We began with one girl and made it around the circle, asking questions depending on the color of the Skittle they received such as: “what was the best part of your day?” or “what was something you wished happened today?” Once they answered those questions, they were able to eat the candy. This was an innovative way to get the girls to open up, which we are always encouraging. Subsequently, we kicked off the theme with a following activity. On the board, I wrote the phrase “If I knew I couldn’t fail, I would…” and asked the girls to finish the phrase. One by one they went up, and by the end we were met with a diverse group of answers including: do gymnastics, go skydiving, or in a general sense to “keep trying.” We followed with a discussion about this activity and asked the girls to further pinpoint their biggest fears. Some of them responded with tangible fears such as spiders and snakes, but many said they feared losing their friends or family. Because of her family issues, one of the girls even said she was afraid of waking up one day, faced with an empty home. I was extremely saddened and almost shocked that young twelve or thirteen year old girls were worried about being taken away from their beloved families. When I was twelve, I was afraid of the dark, insects, and heights; to some of these girls, my once biggest fears were minute, and rightfully so. Fear protects us from dangerous situations, but it also can be paralyzingly. Typically, we tend to fear change or unfamiliar situations, but if we allow that to hinder us, how can we progress? We threw thought-provoking questions at the girls to answer and this made many of them rethink their preconceived notions. We challenged the girls to name a task they could accomplish but they were simply too afraid to and then complete the said task within the next week or so. Whether it is approaching a new classmate or answering a question in class, we are excited to see the girls accept this challenge.

          The girls have voiced an interest in pollution, climate change, and greenhouse gas emission and combatting those environmental issues; thus, it was natural that they would want to take action by acquiring recycling bins and compost for the school. We are extremely proud of the innovation, leadership, and philanthropy in the girls at Oak Grove Middle School! Aava F. 5/2/17

G.O.A.L.S – 4/18/17

For this week’s meeting, we decided to focus on the central idea of never giving up. We began with a quote by American abolitionist and author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who said, “Never give up, for that is just the place and time the tide will turn.” Afterwards, we involved the girls in a group discussion, where we all shared our own experiences revolving around not giving up, and instances where we have wanted to just drop everything and give up, but kept our heads up and kept working hard. We asked the girls why giving up is typically more popular than getting past the obstacles, and the unanimous answer was that it was easier. Following the group discussion on what we could do to never give up, we spent a while focusing on the girls’ math and science homework. We answered every question and we helped them with any problems they had in their schoolwork. When we finished, we moved on to the girls’ favorite topic: volunteering. A few weeks earlier, we discovered that Oak Grove Middle School–where we hold our meetings–had very few recycling bins, which we desperately wanted to change. We wanted to begin fundraising to allow the school to buy more bins, so we began brainstorming numerous new ideas. The girls came up with great ideas such as: hosting a bake sale, setting up a lemonade stand, making our own crafts, jewelry accessories, and even doing a car wash. No ideas were tossed aside, and unfortunately, the meeting ended thereafter, with promises to talk more about the issue at hand -Ashley 

G.O.A.L.S – 3/28/17

This week in G.O.A.L.S we talked about the body shaming of girls and how our feelings about our bodies coincide with society’s trends of what a “perfect body” looks like. This “prime” body image that is advertised and pounded into teens’ heads leads us to body shame ourselves and tone our confidence based on how compatible we are with these current trends, causing many girls to feel anxious or ashamed when they look in the mirror. It’s difficult for girls to escape this constant pressure because even if they stop looking at magazines, social media, friends, and family are still immutable reminders of what their bodies should look like. We started our conversation with the girls by reflecting on the traits that they believe makes a “perfect” body, with the girls’ comments following along the lines of “skinny”, “thin legs”, “long legs”, etc. We realized how this is an incredibly unrealistic and exclusive body standard as we all have different bodies with quirks and kinks that make us unique, and we should start to learn how to appreciate everything about these quirks. After reflecting on this issue and how it alters the way we see each other and ourselves, we began an activity where we wrote “When I look in the mirror I see….” on a sticky note and finished the sentence, and then put them all on the board. The girls responses were varied; some explained that they see their “prettiest self”, others see simply a “person”, and the rest described themselves as invisible and depressed. The girls did not have to identify their own sticky note, but we talked about the outcomes of the activity. The girls who wrote positive comments explained how their mindset is not affected by society’s body standards, the outlook that we are trying to reinforce in all girls. In contrast, the girls who wrote comments such as “ugly” or “depressed” explained that they didn’t like the way they looked because their eyes are too far apart or their nose is too big etc. The girls who simply stated that they saw a “person” explained that they didn’t see anything special in themselves. The girls talked to each other about their feelings, both positive and negative, as they moved towards changing their mindsets to gain confidence in themselves and their bodies. To expand on this conversation, we all participated in an activity where we drew a sketch of ourselves and listed five things we love about our bodies, whether it be short hair, long nails, freckles, foot size, or even type of belly button. We were also allowed to list only one characteristic that we didn’t appreciate and work on changing our outlooks of that trait. A few of the girls struggled to identify anything they liked about themselves, highlighting teens’ lack of self-confidence in their bodies, but eventually we were all able to share the traits we embrace and why. After ending the day by talking about the serious eating disorders that result from body shaming such as anorexia and bulimia, we were lead to a conversation about weight considering that most of these disorders involve obsessing over a too light or heavy weight. Girls are commonly shamed for their weight throughout life and especially in school, and we talked about how there is a healthy weight for all of our body types but that weight differs for all of us. We also talked about the effects of fat shaming and surprisingly, many of the girls were unaware that shaming someone for being skinny is extremely prevalent for teens as well. Many girls are nagged for being “too skinny” or called “anorexic” which causes them to eat unhealthy amounts for their body type. We encouraged the girls to fight body shaming of women and stick up for those who are bullied or shamed for being themselves. In our society, girls frequently body shame themselves and/or are criticized by others when they feel that they don’t fit the “perfect” body image that is woven into our culture. We should all be aware of the impact this has on girls’ physical and mental health and work to combat body shaming by loving ourselves and helping others appreciate their bodies. So today, when or if you look in the mirror, say to yourself, “Wow, you are pretty dang awesome.” – Ellora Easton 3/28/17

G.O.A.L.S – 3/07/17

This week at G.O.A.L.S was jam-packed; we had our highest attendance with well over 20 members. In addition to our weekly activities which I will touch on later, we had our very first guest speaker, Mrs. Cherise Melton Khaund, an active member of our community, MDUSD advocate and Walnut Acres Elementary PFC President. It was the perfect week to have our first guest speaker in celebration of International Women’s Week! The members took to Mrs. Khaund immediately , she started by talking to the girls about
her childhood in Venezuela where she had no knowledge of the Spanish language as many of the girls could not speak English when they first immigrated to the United States. She then recounted her experience growing up in Saudi Arabia (which excited two Arab girls). After that, she segwayed into her college career as an Engineering major at Stanford University which was not only academically challenging for her but, she was met with reactions such as “you don’t look like an engineer.” She asked the girls what an engineer looks like and the response was “anything.” We feel she is a great role model to the girls as a woman in STEM which, as we have discussed many times in past meetings is crucial due to the underrepresentation of women in this growing field. The academic portion of G.O.A.L.S encourages STEM and Mrs. Khaund did a wonderful job on further educating the members on how important it is that they pursue their interests in those subjects. Mrs. Khaund then discussed the Safe Haven Resolution and NUSD which are two pressing and divisive issues in the community. She then asked the girls about their aspirations and ideal careers; their responses were diverse varying from becoming a doctor to a fashion designer. She talked with them about their lives at Oak Grove and what they would like to see improved. The two main issues were: the math classes are too easy and the minimal amount of recycling bins at the school. She encouraged them to make their concerns heard to the school and MDUSD, inspiring us as leaders to tackle these new challenges. We cannot thank Mrs. Khaund enough for accepting our invitation and for doing so much for our schools!

Our activity for the day was : the m&m icebreaker The girls were asked to pick one m&m and hold onto it until the game officially begun. We started at one end of the table and worked our way around and asked each of the girl’s questions such as: “what makes you sad?” or “what makes you excited?” At first, they seemed to be confused but they caught on: the color of the m&ms determined the question we would ask. Some of them were hesitant to answer, but most of them eventually did. One answer that stood out was in response to “what makes you happy?” and she responded with “…a happy family.” This was an effective and fun icebreaker game that practiced on rewarding communication and discussion.

After this, we began another activity but this time related to the theme at hand knowing we had an amazing speaker: stereotypes perpetuated on women. Without any clues , Ellora asked the members to raise their hands and call out suggestions for a birthday party for a young girl and a young boy. Not surprisingly, they said “pink decorations and dolls” for a girl’s party and “blue decorations and sports” for the boy’s party. We began to question how many of the girls liked sports, the color blue, etc. and the majority did; we additionally asked how many disliked the color pink and dolls and many raised their hands in agreement. Thus, this prompted us to ask why they did not list activities they liked under the girl’s party, but rather “girly” and more feminine activities. They responded by essentially saying, “That’s how we are trained to think.” We began to discuss the expectations for girls in society such as being fragile and delicate and the surprise many face when they are not, causing them to say phrases such as “like a girl” or “you got beat by a girl!” One member mentioned whenever someone tells her she “throws like a girl” she says, “yeah, so what?” This instigated a conversation about turning phrases with negative connotations into empowering moments and fighting misogynistic language at school or in our society. I shared how in the 7th grade when a male classmate asked what my favorite subjects were and I responded science and math he immediately looked shocked and claimed “that’s weird.” Initially, I was confused by his reaction but as I have grown older I understand: he was gender stereotyping me. As a whole we agreed that this was one of our best meetings and so happy to see our members so engaged!- Aava Farhadi 

G.O.A.L.S – 2/28/17

This week, all of the leaders decided that the best topic for this meeting would be about saying ‘no’, as we all felt strongly about the fact that saying the word ‘no’ is not as bad or rude as society makes it nowadays. When we walked into the room, the girls were already in there, having fun and playing with each other. We quickly got them settled down, and made the students pass around sign-up sheets that we had just recently produced in order to keep the students more safe and have their location easily known in case of any emergency. We took turns asking each girl how their day was, and began a little bit of chit-chat or small talk before we, instead of discussing the theme straightaway, went directly to the activity we had planned earlier. We told the girls to go stand over by the wall, and when they asked us why, we told them nothing. But nonetheless, despite their unanswered questions and endless curiosity, they did it anyway. We asked them why they just went over to the wall when they had no prior intention before we told them to, with no good reason, and they couldn’t come up with an answer. We let them sit back down in their seats, and then we introduced the theme for this week. It came to no surprise to us that each student, when we asked them, believed that saying ‘no’ in response to anything was rude. And while that may be true in certain situations, such as speaking to your elders, we told them that anything that they didn’t want to do, they didn’t have to do. If doing so made her unhappy or anxious, there is no justifiable reason that she should ‘willingly’ go through with it. After discussing the topic for over 40 minutes, we moved on to the volunteering project that the leaders are currently working on making available for the kids. Last week we had narrowed it down from a variety of volunteering options to what the students were most interested in: animal shelters. We brainstormed numerous items that we believed an animal shelter might need, and we added it to the list, making plans to call an animal shelter that had less donations but needed more. An hour flew by quickly, and before we knew it, we were saying goodbye to the kids, telling that we would see them next week with more fun and games- Ashley 2/28/17


G.O.A.L.S – 2/21/17

This week in GOALS we began with a stimulating group activity to get our minds going. In this game, one of the girls went outside and the inside group decided whose identity they wanted to be in a common pattern, which in this case was being the person on their right. After analyzing the characteristics or dress of the person they were pretending to be, the outside person reentered and asked yes or no questions such as, “Do you have brown hair,” or, “Are you wearing a purple jacket?” Once she discovered the identity of some of them, she tried to identify the overall pattern. This game was surely challenging as it required patience and observation, but the girls successfully completed it.
Afterwards we talked about the importance of having people of color represented well in the media. We reflected on how numerous people relate with those who share a background or culture, which can be especially vital when it comes to having a role model. This is why it is so important to have different races and cultures represented in the media. We considered what it would feel like if all dolls were white, and how that would make non-white children feel. Growing up without someone of the same race to look up to as a role model or to simply have as a doll can be disheartening for many. As humans we need to be able to relate to others, and to have someone who shares a similar background or culture can spark hope and determination (if she/he can do it, then so can I). Speaking of role models, many of the girls shared people they admire and why. One of the girls explained that she admires her mom because she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a pediatrician, and another explained that her aunt was her role model because she has always been supportive and reliable. I shared that I look up to my grandmother because after traveling to the US from India, she was the first woman in Berkeley to open a business. Regardless of who we explained, they were someone who we could identify with, which is why it is important for all races to be represented well in the media because people are inspired when someone similar to themselves is successful. These role models challenge us to aspire to greatness whether it be towards our careers, how we treat others, or our daily actions- Ellora 2/21/2017

G.O.A.L.S – 2/16/17


Last week at G.O.A.L.S, our meeting fell on a momentous day in American history: ‘A Day Without Immigrants.’ Essentially, this was a protest to simulate the effects a mass wave of immigration would produce by closing shops, stores, businesses run by immigrants and withholding from work or school. Thus, it was no surprise when our meeting was unusually smaller, but no less vibrant. Shortly, the girls began to discuss the emptiness of school that day for they had on average 6-8 students per class. The girls were saddened for missing their friends both at the club and at school which lead one of them to say “This is so unfair. It doesn’t make sense how he [Donald Trump] can single out Mexicans.” The others agreed with her and I made a note that not only is he discriminating against the Hispanic/Latino community, but a variety of marginalized groups such as women, the LGBTQ+ community, and Muslims.
She responded back with “What is a Muslim?” I asked a Muslim girl from Yemen to explain. She eloquently explained that like Christianity, it is a widespread religion to people but typically from the Middle East (though can be from all around the globe). It was not only her summation of the religion that was memorable, but what she said after: “Trump doesn’t want us here. He says we’re all terrorists and he tried to ban my immigrant family [from Yemen].” I immediately connected with this statement for my family immigrated from Iran (a country affected from the Muslim ban) in 1979 and faced xenophobic rhetoric back then during the Iran hostage crisis.

When I was in 4th grade, I vividly remember my father picking me up from school and after a crossing guard heard him speaking to me in Farsi he wasted no time in spitting out hateful words such as “That’s not how we do things [cross] in America…go back to your country.” Fast Forward to 2017 where my twelve-year-old brother was bullied for his background with words such as “terrorist” and “Isis.” I replayed this account to the girls and explained to them the damage these words have done and two Arab girls responded with “I know how he feels.”

A hijabi girl from Yemen recalled a time when she took a trip to her local mall with her large family. Walking around, she felt eyes glued to them with clear disgust and hate; she felt extremely uncomfortable and nearly left. After, she proceeded to say how the word “terrorist” no longer bothers her because she has become numb to the pain. Both Ashley and I were saddened by these recollections and so were the other members. The non-Muslim girls got only a brief glimpse into the oppression Muslims face and helped them understand the urgency in protection. This was a seamless segway into our closing topic which was the MDUSD Safe Haven Resolution. This was a plan proposed by the district to provide clear security for immigrants or first-generation Americans from ICE officials seeking their personal information. It also guarantees that the schools will provide a safe atmosphere for immigrants or first-gen Americans, shutting down slurs and anti-immigrant language. However, we also mentioned that both Ellora and I made speeches at the school board meeting (where they eventually passed one draft of the resolution). We drew on both personal experiences and accounts from members of G.O.A.L.S, speaking on their behalf. We stressed the importance of empowering our immigrant youth and protecting them at all costs to ensure their success. The girls were honored to be included in this revolutionary change and clapped ecstatically when we told them of the results.
We are a divided nation and in order to succeed we must unite which requires not solely toleration but acceptance. As Audre Lorde once said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”


          Ellora speaking at the MDUSD school board meeting. 

          Aava Speaking at the MDUSD school board meeting


G.O.A.L.S – 1/17/17

At this week’s  meeting, the girls had some great ideas about volunteering as our theme was making change. All of them expressed interest in helping their community in one shape or another. We plan on taking action within the next few meetings! Some ideas discussed were: clothing/ food drives, helping out at dog shelters, and instilling a recycling program at the school. So proud of their leadership and innovation!