Today, we bring you a blog from the Girls in the Game After School Program in Baltimore. Meera Raja is the Coordinator at Towson University, our Baltimore partner school. Meera gives us a national perspective on our programs, along with a basic tenant that we use everywhere!
This past fall was my first season at Girls in the Game. I had the privilege to coach at many of the sites on a regular basis, and I got to know most of the girls in our programs in Baltimore. Some of the girls were reluctant to participate or had behavioral issues, but as the season progressed, they became more comfortable with the schedule and routines set by the coaches. I personally noticed that they participated more consistently and there were fewer behavioral issues as the season progressed. The girls were always excited to see the coaches, and the coaches were always great in getting the girls interested in all the different activities planned for the day. One of the tools that worked best for us here in Baltimore to get more consistent participation was reminding girls of the five finger contract that they agreed to when they first started at our After School programming.
The five-finger contract is used to encourage positive behavior and decrease unwanted or disruptive behaviors. Each finger stands for a different aspect that we expect the girls to commit to while at programming and hopefully outside of Girls in the Game as well. Starting with the little finger, the five fingers represent safety, commitment, respect, working together and having fun. It’s easy to remember for the girls and coaches because there are only five, and they can all be tied into the different activities we do during programming.
Many recall the violence that occurred in Baltimore last April. Since April, the homicide rate has gone up in the city while the rate of arrests has gone down. Many of our participants are aware of the violence in the city. Girls in the Game allows participants to have fun playing and learning about sports, health and leadership in a safe and fun space. Although we talk about things like peer pressure and body image during programming, being in a space where violence can be talked about with a coach who is supportive and positive can be a wonderful experience. In our last parent survey, many parents mentioned that there were few after school programs in their neighborhoods. Girls in the Game in Baltimore helps meet a need that is lacking in many Baltimore neighborhoods.