Girls For A Change Girl Ambassador Program Offers a Solution to Educational Barriers and School Dropout
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the deep inequities that exist in society, especially in education and workforce development. Now that we are eight months into this pandemic, the stats are speaking volumes.
A recent study showed that in Virginia, 60% of Black families have lost income. Here in Richmond, where Richmond Public Schools have the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students and also the highest percentage of students of color in the Richmond area, we are seeing the effects of the pandemic play out in the worst ways.
- 1 in 5 adults have children who are “down” or depressed
- An August Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study indicates that 1 in 4 young adults have seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.
- 1 in 5 RPS students have missed two or more days of virtual learning, which is three percentage points higher than the same period in 2019.
- Richmond Public Schools have the lowest on-time graduation rate and highest dropout rate in Virginia, and that number is said to be trending up.
The digital divide has become wider as those who already lacked exposure to technology are struggling due to lack of access and knowledge. There’s also pressure to help with chores and take care of sick family members in households where parents are essential workers. Social distancing, dropout, and being out of the classroom has caused a decline in mental health as students are away from peers, risk being stuck in an unstable household, and feel frustrated and isolated with no outlet or counselor to turn to.
Girls For A Change has been partnering with Richmond Public Schools to help fill these gaps. This year, GFAC has adapted its Girl Ambassador program so that High School students can be among their peers, work towards gaining confidence with technology, and build their professional skills. The Girl Ambassador program was designed to close opportunity gaps and provide much needed workforce development opportunities to Black girls in Richmond. Girls For A Change provides loaner computers with update-to-date software and prioritizes soft skills and digital literacy needed for adaptable, successful work.
“The work of engaging students takes RPS staff, families, and community members working together. The Division is excited to partner with community agencies like Girls For A Change to address family’s needs and support student success through positive engagement.” – Dr. Erin Brown, RPS Director of Family and Community Engagement
Girls who participated in this year’s cohort went through skills training and worked summer internships 100% online. Not only did they stay engaged, they were more prepared for the upcoming school year because they had already experienced working and learning virtually.
“Before our girls can legally drive a car, they learn 21st-century technology skills, coding, and are exposed to different career pathways to spark their interest and open up their minds to endless possibilities,” says CEO, Angela Patton.
“In my last three years, I have witnessed girls advance their technical and professional skills and stay connected to our hiring partners. For example, participant Mariah Tindall, who will receive her Microsoft 365 certification at 16 years old and Breeana Gant, who was hired after her internship with Emergent Social Solutions and continues to work for the company remotely while she attends Christopher Newport University,” says Na’Kera Richardson, Director of Operations, Girls For A Change.
The Girl Ambassador Program is holding an informational session and is recruiting girls for the next cohort. Girls who complete the 8 weeks of skills training will be matched with a paid internship over the summer. Girls who remain in the program for at least two years are also eligible to apply for a scholarship to VCU from program partner, The Ezer Agency.
Learn more about the program by registering for the next virtual information session being held on Wednesday, January 20 at 6pm. Register here. Hiring partners interested in hiring an intern in 2021 can learn more here.
This story was published in the December 31 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
About Girls For A Change
Girls For A Change is a nonprofit youth development organization formed in 2000 to empower Black girls and other girls of color visualize their bright futures and potential through discovery, development, and social change innovation in their communities.