"Every Girl Counts" Holds Virtual Weekly Meetings
At Smith Middle School (SMS), the affinity and life skills group for girls of color, Every Girl Counts, has met for a number of years, under the supervision of school social worker, Tina Moore. An important element of the group’s structure is the inclusion of interns from the local nonprofit, Volunteers for Youth, and this year’s co-leaders are UNC students, Abby Gillis and Tamiya Thomas.
During the 2019-2020 school year, Every Girl Counts met midday each week, with 15-20 young women regularly attending. With the transition to At-Home Learning, Moore and her co-leaders were committed to continuing the sessions as virtual meetings, and some members have chosen to join in as often as they can.
“Every Girl Counts is meant to be a life skills group and a support system for female-identifying students at Smith,” Thomas said. “Before COVID-19, the weekly face to face meetings served as an opportunity to discuss specific topics or participate in activities, usually around relationships, race relations, or feminism. However, with the coming of COVID-19 and the transition to remote learning, Abby, Tina, and I decided we would continue to hold virtual groups and allow it to still be a space of support for the girls.”
“We don’t have as much participation as face to face meetings (understandably, the shift online was hard for me as a college student so I couldn’t imagine it for middle schoolers), but we decided to continue meeting since the girls enjoy the group so much,” Gillis said. “We decided it was best to use these online meetings as a catch up with the girls and just a place to talk rather than trying to plan activities or facilitate discussions on certain topics as we do face to face. We generally talk about how the girls are doing, update each other on our lives apart from one another, share resources on how to cope with living through a global pandemic and joke around with each other.”
“They’ve shown us their Tik Tok dances they’ve been perfecting during COVID. We've done makeup and hair ‘tutorials’ for each other, and just generally had a good time,” Gillis said. “I’m always shocked how quickly the hour goes by. The girls who have participated have seemed to enjoy it as a place to catch up, not only with us but with each other. I wasn’t sure how successful continuing to do the group online would be, but I would say it’s probably the best outcome we could hope for considering the circumstances!”
“At the virtual meetings, we would make sure to check-in on the girls and ask them how they are doing,” Thomas said. “We would also discuss fun things to do or watch during quarantine, funny memes, or videos on social media, or simply any new things going on in our lives whether interesting or boring.”
Thomas said, “We have seen how much the girls enjoy the group even when it was moved online and Abby and I have enjoyed facilitating the group and bonding with the girls just as much.”
Gillis and Thomas will be writing an email to all the girls with various resources for at-home activism, mental health for people of color, and podcasts and books about race to help them cope with the troubling times surrounding systemic racism in the United States.
"It has been really great to keep meeting weekly and offer students a link to school that is all about support and connections," Moore said. "Abby and Tamiya are so dedicated to this group that they have continued to set aside the time each week, even changing their work and internship schedules. The EGC students and I are very fortunate to have their leadership and support."
Thomas is a UNC sophomore from Granville County, a high school track standout with plans to major in Human Development and Family Studies, with a minor in education. Gillis is from Sampson County, a sophomore in the honors college and a Bonner Scholar, majoring in history with plans to become a teacher.
They have built strong relationships with the girls at SMS through fun, humor and wide-ranging conversations, and they intend to maintain those connections through the summer as best they can. “I’ll miss them these next few months,” Gillis said, but as a Bonner Scholar, her commitment to Every Girl Counts is set up to last all four years of her time at UNC.
From the EGC website: Every Girl Counts is a weekly life skills group for middle and high school girls from families residing in Chapel Hill. The goal of the group is to assist each member in gaining leadership experience, developing conflict resolution strategies, improving school performance, addressing social justice issues, and giving back to their community through community service.
Every Girl Counts aspires to prepare the members for successful post-high school careers, which includes vocational training and college prep. The group meets weekly at Volunteers for Youth’s office in Carrboro and at Smith Middle School. Potential group members are identified by parents and school officials as girls who could particularly benefit and contribute from participation in such a group.