We're getting somewhere...
Two years isn't a lot of time, but it's enough to know if you're onto something. In our two years, we've learned that kids like to have autonomy and responsibility for their learning, that virtually everyone is more engaged when they're able to be creative, and that developing deeper relationships with your peers is a key aspect of ensuring that girls get the most out of the Spitfire experience. These girls crave authenticity, they ooze charm, and, under the right conditions, they love to read.
We know from organizations like Girl Scouts and Girls on the Run that spaces for girls to work and play together are empowering. We also know that the more time a child spends reading, the better at it they become. It seems obvious, but what we didn’t realize is that the space where these two concepts meet is a unique one that Spitfire happens to occupy. The laid-back and uplifting environment of The Spitfire Club is giving girls the courage they need to bravely read aloud - a critical early step in the literacy journey. We’ve heard from a number of Spitfire caregivers that their girls are finding the confidence they need to dive wholeheartedly into reading, which was a pleasant surprise that totally makes sense. In a meaningful but small way, the act of learning how to read requires girls to live out Spitfire's values of curiosity, resilience, and tenacity.
A story of this at work: This week, the very last girl from of our first batch of original Spitfire girls graduated out of the program. Spitfire is for seven and eight year olds at our first site, Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center, and Tiana* turns nine next week.
When we first began, Tiana was reluctant to read aloud or participate in our activities. I’ll be honest, I was worried that she would never warm to Spitfire. Sometimes her reticence made me second-guess the Spitfire model--our groups are smaller than the classrooms she's used to, the way we interact can be quite personal, and reading is a very vulnerable activity for early learners. Despite this, or maybe because of this, she transformed from a timid and fearful girl to a brave and authentic young lady.
Let’s be real: it is and has always been hard to be a shy, smart girl. I’m grateful to Tiana for being honest about her early fears and anxieties because she helped to demonstrate the power of what I hoped Spitfire would be: a safe space for girls exactly like her.
On our last day of summer programming, I learned from her program director that she had been reading furiously all summer long (even during their programmed activities - oops!). When asked why she was reading so much, Tiana said “It’s my last time in Spitfire Club and I have to make it count.”
Tiana won her cohort’s reading challenge, where she logged 120 (!) books in our six weeks of summer program. Not only that, but, inspired by the musical theme of our books this summer, Tiana and a friend got creative and boldly performed “Llama Town Road”, a rendition of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”, for their whole group.
Tiana is the reason we exist and I’m so grateful for our time together. She is one of many girls who are beginning to find their voice and agency in Spitfire. Inspired by Mae Among the Stars, Gabriela* realized she wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. Vivian* likes Spitfire so much, she's inviting her friends out for ice cream so that they can read books together (and she even designed a lesson plan). Sara* is furiously writing her own stories, now, and bringing them to share with her cohort.
The Spitfire dream is that these girls will continue to grow into brilliant, empowered young women, who, when asked about what contributed to their successes, might say "I was in a book club for girls that changed my life."
Until we get there, we'll be over here learning and growing, sharing our journey, and being grateful for the community we're so fortunate to be able to build. Cheers!
*not their real names