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Girls Inc. after-school programs in Fort Smith empower girls

December 30, 2018

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Who runs Howard and Trusty elementary schools when classes end? Girls.

Girls Inc. began on-site after-school programs at both schools this fall, allowing students to participate in the tutoring, lessons and fun activities offered by the organization without ever having to leave, Executive Director Amanda Daniels said.

Howard Principal Velmar Greene said her daughter was a previous participant in Girls Inc. and was excited to have a program at the elementary school campus.

“The idea of having it on site, I just thought it was a great opportunity,” Greene told the Southwest Times Record .

Greene said Girls Inc. used to have a location a few blocks away, but it’s now Future School of Fort Smith. Many girls at Howard could no longer attend Girls Inc. due to lack of transportation to the Nancy Orr Center.

Shantelle Edwards, Trusty principal, also believes in the program’s importance. She said some students went home to empty houses while their parents worked, but this gives the girls something to do in a safe environment.

Leaders from the Stephens Boys and Girls Club pick up students from each school for programs at the center, but this opportunity lets girls spend time with each other and not worry about going to another location, even if there was transportation.

Greene said Girls Inc. has allowed girls to feel secure. Not only does the staff make sure the authorized people are taking students home and involving parents in activities, they are fostering a caring environment for girls to learn about themselves together.

“They seem to be more secure in themselves, and their image seems to have improved quite a bit,” Greene said.

The principals said the programming includes a lot of lessons about how to view themselves, determine future goals, live a healthy lifestyle, be secure in person and online, and be kind.

Edwards has enjoyed seeing girls have another outlet and build relationships they can carry into the school day. She said a lot of them might not have been friends otherwise, because of personal differences or simply not being in the same grade. Girls Inc. has broken down walls.

But it’s not just the principals who can see the benefits. Greene spoke of parents approaching her, excited about the opportunity to enroll their daughters in the program.

She said it didn’t matter their skin color, origin or language spoken — 63 percent of Howard students are Hispanic and 23 percent are black — they wanted in.

“It was such a big hit that parents were adamant, almost upset, their children weren’t involved yet,” Greene said about the program’s implementation. “They saw the value of it and wanted their children to be involved. It was almost a sense of ownership.”

If there’s anything other residents need to know, it’s the strength of Girls Inc., Greene said. It’s a thriving program with a caring staff focused on working with, not against, the schools to provide a positive experience for girls during some of their most formative years.

“There was a time when we were missing this program on our side of town, and I just hope everyone sees the extreme extent they’ve gone to bring it to these students. And all of it is happening on our school site,” Greene said.

The organization received a grant in April to expand its programming, and after the success at Howard and Trusty, more girls in Fort Smith could have the same opportunity come January. Daniels said she hopes to have after-school programs at Morrison and Tilles, too. Nothing is set in stone yet, but, she sees the potential.

“Currently they don’t have after-school programming, so it would give the girls there an opportunity to do that,” Daniels said. “Also, we’ve seen at Howard and Trusty that it is a huge benefit for the families. Serving more girls is the No. 1 goal.”

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Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/

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