Girl Talk Program at James McHenry Elementary School

Two staff members from the university and the hospital designed and launched Girl Talk, a storytelling program for third grade girls at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School. Erin Walton, LCSW-C, Violence Prevention Program Clinical Supervisor in the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center’s Center for Injury Prevention and Policy, and Kelly Quinn, PhD, program coordinator at UMB’s Community Engagement Center, developed lessons that foster active listening and creative expression for eight and nine year olds. In total, 16 girls participated in two six-week workshops through the winter and early spring.

Walton and Quinn met the girls in a quiet, contemplative setting during lunch period. Together, the girls ate lunch, created nonsensical short stories, and drew in their journals. They played cooperative games that complemented their language arts curriculum. And, the girls told tales about their feelings, relationships, and other experiences using prompts, emoji stickers, and story cubes. They practiced parts of speeches and reading comprehension while also chatting about superheroes and everyday life.

Two the girls from the first session applied and were interviewed to serve as peer leaders for the second round. They helped lead sessions by explaining ground rules and introducing activities to their classmates. These two especially blossomed with their responsibilities.

Girl Talk is an example of the dynamic collaboration between our institutions, the children of Southwest Baltimore, and our local public school. The program emerged in response after the school principal and community school coordinator sought an enrichment program for third grade girls. This successful program fostered learning and leadership opportunities for some of Southwest Baltimore’s youngest residents.