Friday, March 25, 2011

24 Mar 11 - Project Exploration's Girls Health & Science Day

It's about inspiring the young mind of today's teenage girl as well as equipping her with the general knowledge about respecting herself and her body, blogspot readers. Various student representative from schools like ACE Technical Charter High School, Perspectives - Rodney D. Joslin, and Yound Women's Leadership Charter School attended Project Exploration's annual Girls Health & Science Day. In its eleventh year, this one of a kind conference geared for young ladies in grades 7 thru 10 was held at School of Social Service Administration, located near University of Chicago Hospital and campus. These student representatives were encouraged to address concerns and ask questions in which they would receive frank yet direct answers during their group sessions without the snickering and giggling.

The confernece opened with Keynote Speaker, Gladys Nash, R.N. advising the young ladies to think of key events (experiences) and role models effecting and shaping their lives as well as being careful who they choose as their role model. Then she asked the entire group to consider a vision and set a legacy with the challenge of making life happen for themselves. Ms. Nash reminded the ladies of two very important things " did not just happen..." and "...this day is for me and I must make the most of it..." before lastly advising them to take advantage of this conference. With that sound advice to start their day, the young ladies were split up into their respective groups to began the day of informative sessions. To get a better perspective of this conference, SouthSide spent her day covering each of the five student groups while at the workshops offered.

" one is perfect ...we all have flaws..."

SouthSide began the day by attending the Pressures! Pressures! Pressures! workshop with Group 5 (Mikki, group leader) that was presented by Girl Scouts. This enlightening session taught the young ladies how to handle pressure from themselves (and others) and media on what the ideal "perfect" person should be, blogspot readers. Actually, there's no "perfect" person, shape, body, et al - they were told it's simply subjective by their own opinion alone ...what one's idea of "perfect" may not be theirs. Throughout this workshop, postive music was played with inspirational songs by such artists Christina Aguilera to help the young ladies feel their self worth while being told " are not your hair, your thighs ...your body... you are your heritage the way you look..." The principle speakers Ms CJ (a former petite model) and Teslyn (a full figured model) inspired all to dream and dream big reminding them there's no quick fix diet to lose weight - eating right and exercise is the way to go. This session also showed the young ladies how our perception of beauty is (grossly) distorted via video demonstration on what's done to create the "perfect" image for advertisement with a few computer clicks. The session ended with a quick look at a timeline of how the perception of beauty gradually changed from 1900s (the voluptous look) to 2000 (Tyra Banks, et al) and the participants creating a vision board of their own. After the session, SouthSide asked Tesyln if modeling is easy it seems to appear to which she replied "'s fun but hard work for approximately one hour of work ...[it's] more than posing..." Both Ms CJ and Teslyn relayed stories about dealing with agencies, losing weight and wearing fashions even if ugly to make it look fun.

"...if there's trust, there should be no jealousy..."

Next SouthSide attended How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Group 2 (Katina, group leader) which was presented by Between Friends, a Rogers Park organization offering services in domestic violence help and to counseling and prevention education. Speakers Yolonda and Erica began the workshop with a quick exercise for the participant by having them close their eyes and imagine the "perfect" Sam before running through a few scenarios. The scenarios (i.e. Sam accuses them of cheating or Sam's getting progressively possessive) read had the young ladies choosing whether they would "stay" or "leave" their boyfriend (or girlfriend) Sam. This, blogspot readers, was simply more than an exercise was a teaching tool on how a relationship starts off in the "honeymoon" phase yet gradually (and dangerously) moves toward an abusive cycle. Though each participant "failed", they were allowed to explain their reasoning for wanting to "stay" or "leave" during certain scenarios especially when "Sam" became too controlling and possessive. The young ladies were taught the warning signs (i.e. buying their love, excessive jealousy, physical force, etc) as well as told they have the power (and control) of the relationship. They also learned about 3,000 women a year are killed by domestic violence and take responsibility for allowing the person get away with the warning signs even after identifying the problem(s), breaking up and returing to that same person. Yes, women do abuse men however that goes unreported while 95% of the time it's men abusing women. The young ladies left knowing it's easy to get into an abusive relationship but it's so hard to get out of it and how to have a healthy relationship. Later, SouthSide asked Yolonda what she hoped the participants took from this informative seesion and she replied "...[to] realize they deserve a healthy relationship and can have it..." She also stated the media doesn't do a good job portraying that to today's youth.

Before breaking for lunch, SouthSide hung out with Group 4 (Amaris, group leader) during their Fast Forward workshop, presented by About Face Theatre ( This lively as well as interactive workshop opened with a shorter version of the group's current play about realistic subjects facing today's teens - sex education, coming out, sex and HIV/pregnancy. Based on a series of true stories, these (as well as many more) are barely the tip of iceberg, blogspot readers, of what they have to encounter yet the sensitive subject matter and information was handled openly and respectedly in a fun tone without overwhelming them. Sara and her group of players kept the discussions informative as the participants were asked to call out what they remembered about the play - most remembered the condoms. All fun aside, these young ladies were told that condoms are not evil ...but in fact, good and a safe way to protect themselves from STDs and HIV. With some time left to spare, a small group of participants performed a small skit titled "The Class" in which gave a deeper and thought-provoking glimpse at what teens actually think and feel about using condoms. In reality, most believe they don't need to use a condom while many believe won't get pregnant or HIV(or any other STDs) - what an alarming notion. The young ladies left the group knowing two things - having a condom does not make you a slut (really a smart a person) and high school is not always a safe place to come out. The workshop ended with a quick lesson in what L(esbian) G(ay) B(isexual) T(ransgender) Q(uestioning/Queer) A(lly) meant within the gay community. Personally for Sara, Q stood for something positive than its negative connotation over the years before asking the girls what does it mean to be Ally.

"...need to know the business and how to handle it before someone's all up in your business..."

After a delicious lunch break, it was back to business with the young ladies of Group 1 (Jeanne, group leader) during their Taking Care of Business workshop presented by S.T.A.R. (Sisters Talking About Respect) Consulting. These lively (and energetic) group of young ladies split into 3 different groups (at first) to work at 3 stations (Reproductive System, STDs, Sex) for one minute and then switch moving clockwise to the next. At each of these stations, they were encouraged to write what they know or heard about each subject - the answers might astound you, blogspot readers, however it was an interesting look at what they do know. The workshop leader's motto was all about "keeping it real" ...and keeping it real was what she truly did during this informative session. She talked to the group frankly, openly and honestly that (A) reproductive system is something they need to know what it is and how to take care of it; (b) STDs are preventable and avoidable as well as knowing the symptoms and signs; and (C) sex is kissing, touching, oral, anal and vaginal intercourse and a way you can transmit a STD. She told them the following two points "'s not about birth control but self control..." and "...proper planning prevents poor performance..." These young ladies were equipped with the knowledge about the three purposes of a vagina (including warning signs - itching, burning and/or smelling bad; how to properly wipe oneself, and more) and the menstrual cycle/ovulation (how to predict their next cycle and when they're ovulating). Plus they were told the important factors that could effect a regular menstrual cycle (stress, diet, weight) advising them to drink plenty of water and eat healthy before they left to attend their next session.

Last on SouthSide's agenda during Girls Health & Science Day was attending The Five Fingers of Self Defense with Group 3 (Kendra, group leader). This highly interactive session, presented by Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self-Defense Center black belt instructors Kate and Jessica, equipped the young ladies with helpful techniques using the five fingers of self-defense - THINK, YELL, RUN, FIGHT and TELL. After given a color (either blue or green) upon entering, the participants (during certain parts of this sesson) had opportunities to practice with the instructors on what was taught to them. They learned how to stop and/or avoid violence by loudly saying "NO" to it as well as in depth points about each of the five fingers. The young ladies learned prevention, awareness and attidude during THINK to making a loud noise with their voice in YELL and avoid if they can, confront if they must as well as have a plan and don't move from a public to a private place in RUN. During FIGHT, the participants were told it's a serious choice and their right before learning some techniques to defend themselves such as the bear claw/rake and jabbing a person at the knees by kicking with their heel straight up. This active session ended on a meditative and positive note when the instructors taught the young ladies how to calm themselves down before standing in a close circle to say what they would take from this workshop.

The conference ended with a group Q & A session in the main lobby in which the panel, representatives from University of Chicago Medical Center, answered questions submitted anonymously by the attendees. Such questions (i.e. can I be on birth control without my parent's consent ...when is it okay to have sex) were answered respectedly and professionally as well as honestly even though one question did stump the panel because the answer could be subjective to that person's opinion. The young ladies did address other concerns and comments such as being picked on to how to inform a friend about her boyfriend without sounding jealous and other issues. SouthSide was highly impressed how respectfully the young ladies handled themselves during this time as well as offering sound advice and opinions to each other. She wished there was a conference like Project Exploration's Girls Health & Science Day when she was a teen (eons ago) to guide and equip her with what these young ladies were told today. Many of the young ladies expressed how they enjoyed the sessions however Jasmine, a 7th grader at University of Chicago Woodlawn School had this to add "...[it] teaches me [the] tools on how to be a woman ...and having a healthy relationship..."

And what were their adult chaperones and teachers doing while the students were in session? They attended their own workshops in the Adult Track Programs on subjects that dealt with Pleasure Matter: A Sex-Positive Approach to Rape Prevention and Sex Health Education that Works! SouthSide spoke with a few of the adults asking their opinions about today's conference and here's what some had to say: "...wished this was available for my own children ...[very] helpful and absolutely necessary..." - Elizabeth Pagan representing Telpochcalli School, who also planned to speak to her adult children about what she learned; first time participant, Angela Harrison of Reavis Elementary said "...very nice and very informative ...[it had] a lot of helpful information not just for young girls but all teens..." and Diane Hawist of Amundsen High School had this to add "...very informative ...and current ...learn more each year..." She also stated that she brings a different teacher each year to this conference and always receives a positive feedback from the girls adding one final thought "...need one for the boys..."

It was quite an interesting day, blogspot readers, for SouthSide as she spent it walking in the shoes of the new millennium teenage girl ...experiencing what effects them in their daily lives. It was indeed an awakening as well as enlightening moment for her wishing there was more time in each session for the young ladies to absorb the amount of information given in its shortness. Yet she hopes each one left the conference feeling like empowered young women. SouthSide would like to thank Gabrielle Lyon, Elsa Rodriguez and the (hardworking) dedicated staff of Project Exploration for inviting her to this conference as well as the students for allowing her to spend the day in their shoes with them. A huge thanks for all of the workshop leaders/speakers for being so honest and frank with their answers/information.

Until next time, support your local scene,

1 comment:

  1. Southside,

    This isn't your typical event review, but it is an event nevertheless. Several things came to mind while reading this review. On the subject of condoms, I'm sure plenty of people have made a ruckus about the implications of using condoms and sex for teenagers. I'm sure we're aware of this.

    Having respect for one's self goes a long way in not going along with whatever happens to be. It is good to see that the girls can understand cues to an abusive relationship with a partner. Although, girls can be abused by their peers, als mean girls. Maybe it fell out of the scope of this symposium, perhaps it belongs with bullying. But understanding how mind games work can be useful.

    I'd like to add that girls can be smart and do not have to dumb themselves down in order to gain acceptance, unless that's a myth. Cultivating one's mind for it's own sake and pleasure can have enormous benefits as well.



Thank you for your feedback - SouthSide