Inside our Chicas Program: What Prepping for the School Year for 600+ Girls Looks Like
What do you do?
I’m sure you’ve heard this. The all-time rudimentary question that, without fail, comes up throughout any adult’s life when interacting with new people.
Or when catching up with a family acquaintance. That un-special someone you haven’t seen in some odd years, the one you were hoping not to make eye contact with at the grocery store while standing in line, holding canned wine and a container of olives because, well, they aren’t your friend, they just happen to know your mom from Zumba class.
Whether in a grocery store, at family gatherings, or professional events, when this question pops up, I find myself considering this: is this person asking out of genuine curiosity, or are they asking out of obliged politeness? If it’s the latter, I don’t hold it against them. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to endure somebody’s whole employment description. To those people, I give a severely simplified answer; I work with Latina youth. They respond with something about how neat it must be to be a teacher and move on.
However, to the people who seem genuinely interested, I tell them all about what it’s like to be a Chicas Youth Development Advocate, or a Facilitadora. While I do work with Latina youth, I, along with my teammates, motivate and mold 600-something participating chicas into self-sufficient young adults with the necessary social-emotional skills to become leaders in their families, schools, and communities via empowering and holistic approaches.
How does the Chicas Team do this? It’s pretty simple. We get comfortable working in chaos. Controlled chaos, that is.
And if you’re having a tough time imagining what this means, do not fret, for I’ve put together a visual timeline of the past couple of weeks leading up to our first day of after-school sessions with our chicas, hopefully to provide you with a glimpse of what it means to thrive in meticulous mayhem.
Team Meetings (9 weeks prior to start date)
During our late August/early September team check-in, our roles and schools are delved out for the year. There’s a healthy balance of freedom to choose and of the occasional “volun-telling” us what needs to be accomplished. We discuss potential obstacles and ideas on how to address them. We also design goals we want to meet, individually, and collectively as a team and program. This helps us have a clear and intentional target for the program year.
More Meetings (4-8 weeks prior)
After initial planning, we then reach out to all 25 principals and other supporting staff from 3 different districts to schedule meetings to discuss program expectations in their schools. Once messages are sent, we have no choice but to patiently await for their prompt responses during one of the busiest times of the school year.
Connecting and Coordinating (4-8 weeks prior)
Once we’ve met with the principals, we then meet and begin working with our Latino family liaisons, or appointed support staff, to help us get the ball rolling. This means we work together to fill out and turn in building-use forms to the district, as well as secure afterschool snacks, transportation, and a space to host sessions with our groups.
Recruit, Recruit, Recruit (4 weeks prior/ongoing)
Get girls to join the program. This means a whole lot of recruitment at back-to-school nights, resource nights, family nights, club rush, lunch socials, and good ol’ phone calls to referred families. If there’s a gathering anywhere near a school, we’re there talking about the Chicas Program.
Trainings and Professional Development (ongoing)
As Facilitadoras, we must be competent at our jobs, so we attend trainings, workshops, and professional development opportunities to supplement our proficiency in youth work. This means working with community partners and organizations to learn about the latest research and best practices in the area of youth development.
Lesson Planning (ongoing)
Figuring out what material to convey to our participants who range in age from 8 to 18 years old, is one of the most intensive aspects of our work. We not only have to design lessons that are informative, age appropriate, and culturally responsive, but we have to make them engaging from beginning to end. When’s the last time you’ve kept a 7th grader interested in any topic you’ve ever cared about? Or better yet, tried to make a sophomore understand or do anything that is ultimately for their own good?
Enroll and Communicate with Families (1-2 weeks prior to start date/ongoing)
This one is straightforward but nonetheless laborious. We collect the completed applications from about 600 applicants and input their data. Facilitadoras then call families to remind them of the start date, times of sessions, or of any other pertinent information. On occasion we must break the bad news that applicants will be placed on the wait list until space opens up.
Prep Materials (days-hours prior)
Now that we’re hours away from the first Chicas session, you’ll find Facilitadoras putting together materials. Whether it’s markers, construction paper, pencils, scissors, or glue, we’re scrambling to get first dibs. Otherwise we’re out shopping for them, in bulk.
Facilitate Session (day of)
We’ve linked with schools, made rosters, sent out reminders, created lesson plans, gathered materials, and mentally prepared to meet and initiate connections with our new chicas. We’re set.
Facilitadoras disperse throughout various schools in Washington County, we sign in at main offices, head to our spaces to set up, and we wait with snacks for our participants. Sometimes they shyly approach us, one after the other to confirm we’re who they’re supposed to meet. Other times, they swarm us in groups, with commotion and excitement. Throwing question after question our way to see if they’re able to pry a spoiler of the day’s agenda. Once everyone’s gathered, we herd our chicas to our classrooms and thus begin session.
The Chicas Team does a lot leading to the first session of the year and most of it is behind the scenes. Our work, to an outsider, may seem like it’s based on spontaneous shenanigans because we work directly with youth. But the reality is, our team functions according to unseen structure and deadlines to best serve our chicas, and by extension, their families and communities. In case you’re interested in what a Chicas Facilitadora does, I hope this brief timeline into my team’s day-to-day paints you a good picture.
Angela Valenzuela is a guest blogger and Chicas Youth Facilitator and Project Developer at Adelante Mujeres. She is originally from Sinaloa, Mexico, and grew up in north Portland. She graduated in 2016 from Washington State University Vancouver with a B.A. in Humanities with a Primary Focus in English and Secondary Focus in Sociology, as well as with a Minor in Spanish.