Program gives a boost to junior high girls

GW is playing host to an enrichment program for junior high school girls from around the city, part of an effort that began this summer to give the young women extra help.

The Van Ness Program for Academic and Leadership Skills, which conducted a four-week workshop for seventh- and eighth-grade girls last summer, is continuing its tutoring service into the academic year.

PALS, which meets every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the third floor of the Hall of Government, reaches out to young girls who need extra help in the classroom, Director Christine Capobianco said.

“They are average students with a desire to improve,” Capobianco said. “The average students are those most likely to pass unnoticed.”

“These are average kids that fall in between the cracks,” PALS volunteer Nancy Blodgette said.

“With extra attention, these students can excel,” she said.

The program focuses on academic excellence and character development, she added.

For example, an activity last Saturday included analyzing the phrase “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The groups discussed the consequences of certain decisions on their lives as well as truthfulness, courage and listening to their consciences.

“Most of them participate well,” said Janneke Pieters, a PALS volunteer.

“Our main focus is writing,” Capobianco said. “It is something kids aren’t getting enough of, and they will need it for high school and beyond.”

Volunteers from local universities and high schools also help the students with one-on-one tutoring and class activities.

“These kids have a lot of potential,” said PALS volunteer Lynne Dardis, a student at Catholic University. “For example, the girl I’m working with is really, really smart. They’re just not being challenged enough.”

The students also are given opportunities to participate in activities such as drama and sports.

“With the drama, I have seen girls transformed,” Capobianco said. “Girls that won’t even speak in class get on the stage and are amazing.”

Volunteers said this transformation of the students inspires them to continue in the program and encourage young girls to be good students and enjoy future success in life.

“They are taught to be leaders, better daughters and better friends,” Capobianco said. “And this is so (they) can make an impact.”

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