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Thinking Outside the Girl Box

Thinking Outside the Girl Box: Teaming Up with Resilient Youth in Appalachia

Linda Spatig
Layne Amerikaner
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  • Book Info
    Thinking Outside the Girl Box
    Book Description:

    Thinking Outside the Girl Boxis a true story about a remarkable youth development program in rural West Virginia. Based on years of research with adolescent girls - and adults who devoted their lives to working with them - Thinking Outside the Girl Boxreveals what is possible when young people are challenged to build on their strengths, speak and be heard, and engage critically with their world.Based on twelve years of field research, the book traces the life of the Lincoln County Girls' Resiliency Program (GRP), a grassroots, community nonprofit aimed at helping girls identify strengths, become active decision makers, and advocate for social change. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the GRP flourished. Its accomplishments were remarkable: girls recorded their own CDs, published poetry, conducted action research, opened a coffeehouse, performed an original play, and held political rallies at West Virginia's State Capitol. The organization won national awards, and funding flowed in. Today, in 2013, the programming and organization are virtually nonexistent.Thinking Outside the Girl Boxraises pointed questions about how to define effectiveness and success in community-based programs and provides practical insights for anyone working with youth. Written in an accessible, engaging style and drawing on collaborative ethnographic research that the girls themselves helped conduct, the book tells the story of an innovative program determined to challenge the small, disempowering "boxes" girls and women are so often expected to live in.

    eISBN: 978-0-8214-4467-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface The Nutshell. Or, The What, When, How, Where, Who, and Why
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Introduction When I Fell in Love with Shelley Gaines
    (pp. 1-10)

    Every good love story has to start with a time and place—you know, to set the scene—and this one is no different.

    It’s the spring of 1999. I am sitting in my university office, surrounded by menacingly tall stacks of student papers and scribbled field notes from ongoing research projects. A large wooden sculpture sits perched on my desk, spelling out a message that my husband and daughters think I desperately need to be reminded of each day: “Relax.” As one of the few qualitative research experts in the area and a lifelong “yes” addict, I am severely...

  5. 1 RIC. Context Matters. Or, Lincoln County, West Virginia: “I Love It. I’ll Leave Someday.”
    (pp. 11-31)

    “So, where are we now?” I squinted out the window of Ric Mac-Dowell’s prius and tried to find anything recognizable in the endless progression of trees, hills, and intermittently placed homes of Lincoln County, West Virginia. Ric was giving me a driving tour of the area, and I was starting to understand why the field notes of every member of my research team included long narratives about getting lost on curvy country roads.

    “Oh, this is Route 10, Mud River Road,” Ric said, with the casual confidence of a native. “One of the main roads.”Right, main road. I know...

  6. 2 SHELLEY. The Birth of the GRP: It’s a Girl (-Driven Program)!
    (pp. 32-47)

    “No, I’m not going to buy you that class ring—because you’re not going to graduate high school, anyhow.”

    As a teenager, Shelley Gaines’s best friend Jamie (name changed) faced many family expectations, but not the kind that make you want to work hard, study, and go to college. “There was nobody who said, you know, ‘you’re cool,’ or ‘you’re smart’ [or] . . . anything other than ‘you’re going to get pregnant and . . . you’re not going to graduate high school,’ ” Shelley recalled. Jamie’s two sisters had had babies as teenagers. No one in her family...

  7. 3 TERESA. The Girls Have More to Say Than They Thought They Did
    (pp. 48-66)

    When I met her, twelve-year-old Teresa was far from a boisterous, assertive adolescent girl.

    One of the first and youngest members of the Girls’ Resiliency Program, Teresa initially came across as quiet, defensive, and withdrawn. She had a short stature and thick, shoulder-length brown hair that she almost seemed to hide behind. My graduate student who first interviewed Teresa in 1999 returned defeated: “She [Teresa] sat in the chair with her arms folded across her chest for the first portion of the interview,” my student wrote in a note attached to the transcript. “She kept trying to answer ‘I don’t...

  8. 4 CASSI. “They Will Make You Eat That.” Or, Tales of New Experiences and Adventure
    (pp. 67-94)

    Cassi Adkins, an extremely conscientious and organized student, made only two “Bs” in high school: tenth-grade gym class and twelfth-grade civics. Smiley faces, A+’s, and notes of “excellent work” cover her tests and papers. A self-portrait collage she created includes cut-out magazine snippets of the phrasesfollow your passion, vibrant, sisterhood,andbest.Cassi’s self-description on her MySpace account reads simply: “If you’re happy and you know it . . . *clapping.*” Cassi has a bright smile and writes with many, many exclamation marks.

    As you can imagine, it’s pretty hard not to like Cassi. She is a devoted friend,...

  9. 5 IRENE AND VIRGINIA Girls Take the Lead, but “It’s Hard Coming from a Participant to Staff”
    (pp. 95-114)

    At age seventeen, Virginia had that “I don’t know” syndrome so common to young women—one of the most severe cases I’ve ever seen. In one interview, she responded with “I don’t know” fifteen times in the course of a four-page transcript.

    The interviewer wanted to know how she had changed after five years in the GRP:

    Virginia : I don’t know. I really don’t know.

    Interviewer : You don’t know. Are there, like, any words that come to mind? Virginia : I was really, really shy. I’m still shy now, but not as shy. I mean, I don’t know....

  10. 6 LEANNE AND BETTY The GRP Collapses, but the Learning Goes On (and On)
    (pp. 115-136)

    “Well, it got a little out of control sometimes,” admitted LeAnne Olson, a doctoral student of mine, breaking off a piece of her cheddar biscuit at a local seafood restaurant. Tucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear, she broke into a laugh.

    LeAnne, Layne, and I were meeting to talk about GRP research—primarily conducted in recent years by two of my students, LeAnne Olson and Betty Sias. Betty, a go-getter who consistently seeks out challenges—as soon as she finished her dissertation, she threw herself into training for her first marathon—was focusing on the boys’ program,...

  11. 7 ASHLEY. Life after the GRP. Or, “College Is a Big Smack in the Face.” With LeAnne Olson
    (pp. 137-165)

    Ashley advised me, “Everything will be fine.” Her pep talk was in response to my bad case of the jitters before a presentation of our collaborative research at my university. during the presentation, just looking at Ashley sitting by me on the stage, so calm and collected, helped me relax—at least a little.

    A friend of Cassi’s and one of the last to join the Girls’ Resiliency Program, Ashley—who was in foster care throughout high school—is one of five girls who participated in LeAnne Olson’s dissertation research. With glasses and thick, shoulder-length brown hair, Ashley has a...

  12. 8 LINDA AND LAYNE There’s a (Research) Method to Our Madness
    (pp. 166-194)

    “I don’t want to sit next to him,” Billy announced as he stood up and brushed himself off. Jordan had just given him a friendly punch in the arm, which resulted in Billy’s chair turning over to considerable laughter. “Okay,” I responded, not sure how to proceed as I continued to arrange chairs. “Would anyone else like to sit here?” No volunteers—just some nervous chuckling and horsing around as Jordan gave Wesley a shove and tossed a small beanbag across the room where Anthony and Billy struggled with each other to get it. “Whoa, guys, take it easy!” cautioned...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 195-196)
  14. References
    (pp. 197-208)
  15. Index
    (pp. 209-216)