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How U.S. schools can help make a difference for girls’ education worldwide

Two education industry veterans who have recently launched a new organization to empower young women and girls around the globe talk about how schools can get involved

girls-thinkingKathy Hurley and Deb deVries have spent their careers in education, first as special ed teachers, and then in educational publishing, where they retired this year from the Pearson Foundation and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, respectively. But before the dust could settle on their gold watches, the women started a new organization, Girls Thinking Global (GTG), whose ambitious goal is to create a global network of organizations that serve adolescent girls—to help the groups connect with one another and best leverage their resources to serve the needs, especially education needs, of young women worldwide.

On December 8, GTG had their official launch in New York City, where they aired a documentary highlighting the work of the Jungle Mamas, a Pachamama Alliance program that trains indigenous Achuar women and adolescents in the Ecuadorian Amazon to become birthing attendants. Hurley and deVries talked with eSchool News about their work, and why their organization’s mission is important to American schools.

eSN: What spurred you to create this organization?

Kathy Hurley: During my time in education, and especially over the last 10 years with Pearson and the Pearson Foundation, I’ve been fortunate enough to observe firsthand many educational systems around the world. One of the most consistent threads I encountered, especially in the developing and underdeveloped world, was that where girls were educated, they were more likely to be leaders in their community and seek opportunities that would allow them to be active contributors outside the home.

Deb deVries: There is data that shows that positively impacting the life of a girl has significant implications on the family, the community, and the local economy. A year ago when we both knew we would be retiring, we decided to talk seriously about starting a nonprofit focused on girls. We wanted to give back, make a difference, and continue to be involved in the industry. When Kathy was accepted into the Harvard Advanced Leadership Institute in 2014, she brought our outline of a program that would become Girls Thinking Global.

(Next page: Efforts to support girls’ education)

eSN: Why do you think girls’ education is so important?

Hurley: Last year, I was involved in the Pearson Foundation’s support of the film Girl Rising. The project originally started out as a documentary on poverty in underdeveloped and developing countries. However, the crew quickly realized that the problem of poverty was really one of exclusion, and where girls were excluded from education, excluded from a larger role in their communities, those communities (and by default countries), were much more likely to be impoverished and struggle with all of the challenges that poverty creates. Girl Rising is a powerful film and I would encourage everyone to view it to get an understanding of the change we can create by supporting girls around the world.

eSN: Your focus is on connecting like-minded organizations to help them best leverage and share their resources. What’s the relevance of your mission to U.S. schools and to American girls?

deVries: Although our initial focus is the organizations serving adolescent girls, we believe engaging adolescent girls themselves would be not only empowering for them but enhance our mission. American schools are committed to creating world citizens as well as meeting the education, health, and general well being of the adolescent girls they serve. We have had adolescent girls in U.S. and abroad contact us about how to get involved. Some ideas that we have brainstormed:

  • Researching organizations that work with adolescent girls and/or were founded by adolescent girls
  • Researching what it means to be a girl in different parts of the world and creating displays (Prezi/Powerpoint)
  • Researching facts/statistics about girl data
  • Documentary screening and Q&A/discussion
  • Feedback sessions regarding possible curriculum/case studies
  • Social media mapping while GTG staff is in-country doing documentary
  • Encouraging adolescent girls to comment on GTG efforts and offer ideas for connecting with other adolescent girls to support our efforts.

Hurley: The list here is a start and we welcome input from girls and schools. Because one of our objectives is to share resources we would hope that any project or work done by schools would be made available on our web site to other girls or organizations. We also are working on developing internship opportunities where a girl may be doing work that will be used by GTG, for example, identification of organizations serving girls, support of social media efforts.

deVries: We are looking at different platforms that would encourage sharing, dialogue between adolescent girls worldwide. We believe that girls sharing ideas, telling their own stories, and making connections themselves worldwide supports our mission of connecting global change makers. These young women are the future leaders of the organizations we are working with and supporting.

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