Project Profile: Community, Empowerment, Leadership, and Self-Awareness (CELA)

May 15, 2009

KIPP is a San Francisco Bay area public middle school established in 2003 that boasts the highest performance rate of all middle schools in San Francisco. Programs like Community, Empowerment, Leadership, and Self-Awareness (CELA) have helped KIPP excel. The goal of CELA, a 2006–08 Community Action Grant project, was to give girls “the space to learn about, define, and better themselves through the principles of community, empowerment, leadership, and awareness.”

Chandra Alexandre, program coordinator, explains that the AAUW-funded program was first developed “because of a conviction that girls need their own space to talk about and work through difficult issues.” The program consisted of weekly meetings with discussions about body awareness, self-esteem, gang violence, homelessness, and other relevant social issues. One advantage of the program was that it provided the girls with “another outlet for expression, exploration, and relationship building.”

CELA at a indoor rock climbing event

Indoor rock climbing event

In addition to weekly meetings, over the two-year period the girls attended a film screening, an indoor rock climbing event, and a completion ceremony. Chandra says the rock climbing event was the most influential, because it “took the girls out of the familiar and safe territory and brought them into direct relationship with a new environment and new challenges where they had to learn new skills, confront fears, and apply themselves in order to succeed.”

These meetings and activities were set up to be catalysts for change among the girls and their communities. “We have witnessed and experienced our girls becoming powerful role models and advocates for social change, capable of translating their knowledge about what it means to be a woman in the world and what they care about into personally meaningful action.” Following the completion of the AAUW-grant funded project, the program has continued in a reduced capacity through the help of committed volunteers. Looking ahead, there are currently plans to rejuvenate the program for the 2009–10 school year. “The girls love it and want to continue,” explains Chandra. “We want to help them continue since the benefits have been noticeable and strong.”

The CELA project has helped not only the participating girls but all who were involved. Chandra says working with the program taught her that “just a little support, a little encouragement, and a little teaching around specific issues go a long way toward making a difference.” She says, “I was constantly blown away by the maturity of the girls when given the acknowledgment of their power and abilities. Doing the program reinstilled my belief in the importance of individual contributions, even small ones, to our youth, and particularly our girls.”

For those who are interested in creating a program like CELA, Chandra says, “It is important to build trust through a dedicated curriculum that teaches the importance of ground rules, honesty, confidentiality, and what it means to be a woman in the world.” She advises, “Take theory into practice by letting the girls lead themselves. Trust them!”

By:   |   May 15, 2009

1 Comment

  1. meg says:

    Have programs like this happened anywhere else in the US? They sound a bit different than things like Girls, Inc. …I think it’s important to start programs like this that make it seem like they’re an integral part of the curriculum, as opposed to a separate unit. Girls need to know that voicing their opinions about social issues is part of the learning process, not just something extra on the side. This sounds like a great program!

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