Welcome to my first blog of 2014! In my role as the Chief Executive Officer of Girls Inc. of Metropolitan Dallas, I look forward to visiting with you about a variety of thoughts and endeavors…in our society, community and lives. Always, my focus will be the development of young girls into women who are healthy, educated and independent. Supporting that focus, however, will be a broad range of information, fact, analysis and anecdote, all of which impact the degree to which girls and young women are prepared to provide the essential fabric of a civil society.
As we move through these areas of interest, analysis and advocacy, I look forward to your comments, ideas, and wisdom of your experience.
In this first conversation, I want to visit with you about poverty…the face of poverty.
Nationwide more than 100 million Americans either live near the brink of poverty or live in and out of it, with nearly 70 percent of these Americans being women and children (Shriver, 2013). Furthermore, the Shriver Report found that woman are three times more likely than men to be raising a family on their own and wouldn’t be able to come up with $2000 in 30 days to deal with an emergency.
Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development. Poverty and financial stress can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social and emotional problems and poor health. A recent Stanford study found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s and is now double the testing gap between African Americans and non-Hispanic whites, which declined over the same period (Kids Count, 2012).
Evidence from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network has shown that children in chronically impoverished families have lower cognitive and academic performance and more behavior problems than children who are not exposed to poverty, partially explained by a lack of stimulating behaviors and home experiences among low-income families.
The Face of Poverty in Dallas
In 2012, 38% of the children in Dallas lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty guidelines, a rate that has held steady at just under 40% since 2010 (Kids Count, 2013).
A review of the Texas statewide results of the 2011-12 STAAR standardized tests shows that 24% of children in the 3rd grade did not pass the reading test; 21% of the girls did not pass; 33% of those eligible for free lunch did not pass; and 41% of the migrant children did not pass. The math scores are more concerning: 32% of 3rd graders did not pass the math test; 32% of the girls did not pass; 42% of those eligible for free lunch did not pass and 46% of the migrant children did not pass.
Of the almost 160,000 graduates of the high school class of 2010 across Texas who took the ACT, SAT or both, 26.9 met or exceeded the criterion for Gold Performance Acknowledgement. Of that group: 24.3% of females met the criterion compared to 29.8% of males; of those identified as economically disadvantaged, 9.5% met the criterion compared to 36.4% of those not so identified; and only 8.1% of African Americans and 12.7% of Hispanics met the criterion. The average scores on the SATs was 985; for African Americans it was 858; for Hispanics it was 908; for those identified as economically disadvantaged students it was 878 vs. 1037 for those not so identified; and, for girls the average was 968 compared to 1004 for boys (Texas Education Agency October 2011).
Reflective of this data, the girls served by Girls Inc. programs come from neighborhoods and families with extraordinary needs. Of the 847 girls who participated in Girls Inc. programs from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013: 36% were ages 6 to 8; 37% were ages 9 to 11; 20% were ages 12 to 14; and 7% were ages 15-18; 52% were African-American, 42% Latina, 3% Mixed Race, 2% White, and less than 1% each Native American and Asian. Two-thirds lived in households with one or neither parent; 82% were eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch; 59% lived in households with annual income $25,000 or less, rising to 74% in households with than $30,000.
Like so many other girls in Dallas, the girls served by Girls Inc. face numerous challenges and obstacles on their path to college and career. They include poverty, lack of strong role models, gender stereotypes, and lack of access to experiences that engage them and maintain their motivation for educational and career success in the face of peer and family pressures.
To help respond to these challenges and obstacles that girls face, our organization focuses comprehensively on the healthy development of girls – academically, culturally, financially, socially, and experientially – through age-appropriate programs designed to meet their learning and developmental needs from grade school, through middle school, and into their high school years.
At Girls Inc., we are steeped in the belief that all girls are born with a latent potential that requires nurturing and encouragement to fully blossom. We believe that every girl has the potential for success and that every girl has the right to pursue her own ambitions, in spite of the context of her life or the obstacles she faces. So we created a place specifically to awaken this potential in young women and to provide opportunities for them to show the world that they can be successful– whether they aspire to graduate high school, be the first in their families to graduate college or become a engineer, designer or business leader. By connecting them with trained mentors and delivering leading programming throughout adolescence, we make sure that at risk girls and young women receive the education, encouragement and guidance they need to reach their full potential.
The Girls Inc. vision is not limited to improving the lives of the girls we serve. We strive to contribute to the betterment of our society to ensure that these young women are awakened to become the strong, smart and bold individuals our communities need. Our work helps to shape leaders, innovators and doers who can make a positive difference in our communities and become role models for the generations of women to come.
Your support of Girls Inc. is a testament that you share our vision and are as eager as we are to make it a reality.