Girls Inc., of Southwestern Connecticut, Waterbury, Connecticut

Background

Demographic Snapshot

Waterbury, CT

The city was the leading center for the manufacture of brassware and hence nicknamed the “Brass City.”

W1XBS was one of four radio stations in the country to begin experimental high-fidelity broadcasting in 1934.

Total population: 110,366

58.8% White/Caucasian
20.1% Black/African American
1.8% Asian American
0.6% American Indian
31.2% Hispanic/Latino of any race

Median household income: $40,254

Girls Inc. traditionally serves mostly inner-city youth from low-income families, with targeted outreach to girls affiliated with the Department of Children and Families and in foster care.

Girls Inc. had initially intended to collaborate with a middle school in Stamford, Connecticut, but when that commitment could not be confirmed, the organization approached principals at other Connecticut schools with which it had previous ties. These schools included Tyrrell Middle School in Wolcott, Girls Inc. of Southwestern Connecticut, and Rochambeau Middle School in Southbury. To gain interest from these schools, Alysse Fraser, program manager and MSY Program coordinator, made a presentation to the school principal and created a short video about the MSY Program as one way to promote enrollment.

Youth and Community Response to the Media-Smart Youth Program

Pam Laliberte, program coordinator and MSY Program facilitator, implemented the program at Tyrrell Middle School with sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade girls. Wolcott is a middle-income community town. The girls who participated in the program are primarily white/Caucasian.

Mission

The mission of Girls Inc. of Southwestern Connecticut is to empower all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

For girls in Ms. Laliberte’s group, the media component of the MSY Program was the most age appropriate and well received. She stated, “The girls loved the Mini-Productions as they 100-percent created their own skits, plays, scripts, songs, and ads instead of my telling them what to do.” Participants requested performing their productions at school but time ran out.

Ms. Laliberte’s group took a field trip to a local cable television company where participants learned how to hold a camera and what it is like to be on camera. Girls in the MSY Program who were also in a Media Maven program got the opportunity to speak with a local reporter and a local photographer about the MSY topics that they were learning. “One fact the girls will never, ever forget is that the average amount of time spent a day on media is 8 hours and 40 minutes. This includes television, videos, texting, YouTube, computer, Facebook, Instagram, and any other social media,” shared Ms. Laliberte. This fact was proven to be true when participants logged their own daily media exposure.

“The girls loved the Big Production. They wanted to continue dancing.”

Alysse Fraser, Coordinator

In contrast, these girls “were not as interested in the nutrition” component of the MSY Program. “That’s probably because they eat whatever their parents give them. They don’t have much of a choice on that matter,” conjectured Ms. Laliberte. For example, the girls were not interested in either drawing the nutrition super hero or in the whole-grain kernel diagram. That said, participants learned to read Nutrition Facts labels, such as examining the number of servings in a package. Before this activity, for example, girls mistakenly assumed that the “4 grams of fat” listed on a food label referred to the amount of fat in an entire package rather than a single serving.

The girls worked well together in groups, especially on the Big Production. Facilitators reported that “favorite projects among the youth were creating a mock fan page on nutrition and creating jingles and billboards.”

“The girls loved the Mini-Productions as they 100-percent created their own skits, plays, scripts, songs, and ads instead of my telling them what to do.”

Pam Laliberte, Facilitator

Program Implementation

Staff implemented the MSY lessons in the Tyrrell Middle School’s and Rochambeau Middle School’s cafeterias and theater rooms (includes a stage) and the Middle School Room at Girls Inc. of Southwestern Connecticut. Rochambeau students occasionally went outdoors to perform Action Breaks and productions on the school’s field.

For each site, Girls Inc. allocated 10 weeks at 2 hours each day to the program. Staff added 2 extra days at Tyrell Middle School to accommodate the larger number of girls and the field trip to a local media site.

Tyrell Middle School

At Tyrell, the girls developed two skits and a song. Some of the girls helped off stage with directing and taping. Tyrell girls took a field trip to a local media center, Skye Cables, in Waterbury. They learned about the operations of camera angles, being on screen, and voice.

Rochambeau Middle School

At Rochambeau, the girls wrote a song. Because not all parents submitted signed release forms, only two of the four girls sang the song in the video.

Girls, Inc. of Southwestern CT

At Girls Inc. of Southwestern Connecticut, the girls produced a healthy living poster PSA on health and fitness.

Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

Because of competing sports activities toward the end of the first round of the program, 10 girls had to discontinue the MSY Program as they could not miss their practices. During spring, schools are extremely busy with their own activities, and parents often register their children in programs in advance of the spring season.

Ms. Fraser feels her greatest success during the MSY Program thus far is in the recruitment of participants (all girls). A Girls Inc. facilitator spent 2 days during Tyrrell Middle School’s lunch wave personally visiting girls and explaining the MSY Program to them, generating excitement. This facilitator also set up a table in the lunchroom where girls could get information, ask questions, and pick up flyers to take home to their parents. This face-to-face, one-on-one interaction with the girls resulted in 22 girls signing up for the first round of the MSY Program. Ms. Fraser suggested that the MSY Program curriculum offer creative ideas for enticing youth to join the program.

For the Snack Breaks, Ms. Fraser and her team improvised on some of the recipes to make the preparation easier and reduce costs. Moreover, the Tyrrell classroom was not large enough to comfortably hold all girls who signed up for the first round of the program, and Ms. Fraser’s team had to adapt to this physical limitation.

Ms. Laliberte’s principal challenge was the time needed to prepare snacks in advance of the sessions. Preparation included shopping for food, washing food (which she had to do at her home), and preparing various dishes for one snack (e.g., carrots and dip, peaches, granola, yogurt, tortillas, turkey, mozzarella). With 25 youth in her group, this preparation process became cumbersome. She likewise modified some of the snacks because she had to travel to another town to purchase snacks in bulk (there is no main supermarket in Wolcott), and sometimes certain ingredients were not available in bulk. As a result, she had to improvise a few recipes.

Recommendations for Future Implementation of the Program

Ms. Fraser offered the following advice to future coordinators: “Plan ahead, start early, set aside sufficient time to train the facilitators, and don’t run all three programs at once.” She concluded with, “We think the Media-Smart Youth Program is a wonderful program, and it ties in really well with the mission of Girls Inc. The most important thing is to be a healthy and happy person and accept yourself as who you are.” Ms. Laliberte echoed, “I like the Media-Smart Youth curriculum. I learned a lot. And the media part is worth repeating.”

Looking Ahead

Girls Inc. will be presenting the MSY Program curriculum to its affiliates in the United States and Canada as a program that Girls Inc. can offer them. Locally, Girls Inc. will continue to offer the MSY Program as an after-school program at the schools and sites in which it has already implemented MSY.

Girls Inc. ran two summer camps (2013) that incorporated MSY Program ideas related to healthy snacks, Action Breaks, and media activities.

Toward the end of summer 2013, Girls Inc. met with administrators at new schools and sites to promote the MSY Program. Girls Inc. has already met with a local middle school that focuses on performing arts—this school offers an ideal space to create future Big Productions. Girls Inc. has also discussed the idea of engaging high school students as mentors to MSY Program’s middle school girls. Mentors would teach MSY participants how to use media equipment supplied by the school.