G.O.A.L.S

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

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.”

Aava

          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!

G.O.A.L.S – 1/10/17

The results of the “My Culture” activity where he had the girls place a sticky note on their family’s country of origin, causing great discussions and learning about other cultures. The map does not even begin to reflect the diversity within this program!

G.O.A.L.S – 12/6/16

During one of our weeks, our primary goal was to talk about the importance of maintaining self worth and confidence in yourself. As high-schoolers, we are aware of and have experienced the struggle of self-identity and confidence that many go through, especially in middle and high school. To expand on this topic we had a group conversation about the importance of recognizing and enjoying qualities in yourself, which we soon saw was a topic the girls struggled with. One component of this topic was being able to take and enjoy a compliment instead of putting it aside or rejecting it as so many including myself do on a daily basis.  It was particularly interesting that the girls were readily able to tell another that she is beautiful, but refused to say that about themselves, thinking that they were bragging about themselves as many were accused of bragging in the past. We reflected on how modesty is an important characteristic to demonstrate, but you can and should be proud of yourself regarding accomplishments, personality characteristics, personal qualities and so forth. To elaborate on this topic, one activity we all did was to write a list of ten things that we love about ourselves, from something that we’re good at to how we treat others.  Again, the girls explained how they felt like they were bragging and didn’t know or like anything about themselves, but after reflecting on it and even some personal stories, we were all able to write our list, some exceeding the minimum. In our daily lives and supremely as a pre-teen or teenager, it is vital to have confidence in yourself and recognize and particularly love your characteristics, accomplishments, personality, and so forth.  Additionally, we can build and improve these traits, such as augmenting how we treat others and build respect as well. We certainly feel that the girls benefitted from this conversation and recognized that they are allowed to love everything about themselves, and share those qualities and accomplishments with others.

-Ellora Easton