HAVERFORD ALUMNUS AND STUDENTS HELP TEENAGE GIRLS BUILD SKILLS AND CONFIDENCE AT WEST VIRGINIA CAMP
As a middle and high school math teacher for several years, Joanna Burt-Kinderman ’98 witnessed firsthand the emotional and academic troubles of adolescent girls. So did her mother, Susan Burt, who, during her own days as a middle school teacher, had often served as a foster parent to female students in whom she saw potential for success. “It would sadden her,” says Burt-Kinderman, “to see these girls close all the doors available to them when they reached high school.”
In the mid 1990s, Susan Burt rallied a group of women in the Eastern West Virginia mountains who wished to combat low self-esteem and self-destructive behavior among local teenage girls, and together they founded High Rocks. Located in Hillsboro, W.Va., High Rocks began in 1996 as a two-week summer program to prepare girls for high school both mentally and emotionally, and is now a four-year, tuition-free resiliency and leadership program serving girls ages 13-18 from three surrounding counties. Participants in High Rocks learn to work together to achieve academic success and learn confidence and leadership skills. “It bolsters their emotional resolve, to learn to support each other rather than tear each other down,” says Burt-Kinderman, who has taught math during the summer at High Rocks since its inception and joined the full-time staff in 2003 as program director.
High Rocks girls start with Camp New Beginnings, a two-week wilderness program for eighth graders, and continue with the program all through their high school years. (High Rocks activities are scheduled after school, during weekends and school vacations, and throughout the summer.) The girls take part in tutoring, group discussions, workshops, college preparatory classes and college tours, community service, and leadership development. As they grow in the program, the girls accept more responsibility by becoming junior counselors, running after-school programs, sitting on the Board of Directors, and helping the staff plan projects.
Burt-Kinderman is largely responsible for two initiatives. The first involves a weekly evening of one-on-one tutoring and extracurricular classes like art, poetry, photography and dance—courses not typically offered by the local school system. The other initiative is a weekly community project that provides the girls with experience in service learning. In the past, they have run after-school programs, played with babies at a birthing center, helped imprisoned mothers with their reading skills, and even gone to the state capitol in Charleston to voice their opinions on social service systems to local leaders. “The heart of this program is giving kids the support they need to become activists in an organic fashion,” says Burt-Kinderman.
Well after they’ve graduated from high school, High Rocks students continue to receive help as alumni. As they pursue their educational and career goals, many find ways to remember the program that helped make these aspirations possible in the first place. “One of our alumni, who works for American Express, told her employers how High Rocks changed her life and arranged for them to match her donations,” says Burt-Kinderman, whose dream is for High Rocks to someday be funded, staffed, and directed by its alumni.
As the program grows and changes along with the girls’ wants and needs, this summer the High Rocks staff introduces documentary filmmaking—“giving the girls a vehicle to take a look at their communities and speak to the people in their lives,” says Burt-Kinderman—as well as an entrepreneurship component focused on small-business development. There’s also the possibility, somewhere down the road, of transforming High Rocks into a combination boarding/charter school. Such a development would benefit not only the camp, but also the surrounding community, says Burt-Kinderman: “It would help local residents build skills to use and own their cultures.”
Also this summer, another connection between Haverford and High Rocks is being forged as current students Samantha Adler ’08 and Danielle Stollak ’07 serve as interns courtesy of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. They first learned of the camp at an on-campus information session: “It seemed like such a great idea, to help these girls who are given so little opportunity to reach their goals,” says Adler.
“I agreed with the philosophy that entering high school could be a challenging time for girls who are just beginning to find their own independence,” says Stollak. “Without the right tools, they could find themselves in a place where their ingenuity and promise could be lost.”
Adler, Stollak, and the other High Rocks interns help plan activities, serve as counselors and tutors, and assist with the day-to-day details of running the various summer camps, including cooking and general office work. “A big focus of this internship has been to teach me about the environment I’m in, and how I fit in here,” says Stollak.
“Interning at High Rocks,” says Burt-Kinderman, “helps them understand what it means to work in a grass-roots nonprofit.”
For more information about the High Rocks program, visit www.highrocks.org and contact Joanna Burt-Kinderman at Joanna@highrocks.org or (304) 653-4891.