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GEMS lets the girls shine

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Alaina Ryan, a student advisor at Tompkins Cortland Community College, center, works with Kaylee Barber, left, and Haven Rundell on Thursday, on better ways to plan and schedule their daily activities at a weekly meeting of the teen group for girls: GEMS.

Twelve-year-old Rena May knows that whatever she shares in the GEMS Girls Group is safe.

“It’s made me happy,” she said of the weekly meetings, sponsored by the YWCA of Cortland. “It lets me have my feelings (roll out) — instead of keeping them inside,” said the Cortland girl. “I can let them (out) and it doesn’t go anywhere.”

“The group is awesome,” said Destinnay Barlow, 11, of Cortland.

Teen mentors Olivia Harrington, 17 and Molly Burhans, 16, both of Homer High School, come up with activities for the girls. Sara Earl, director of Bridges for Kids at the YWCA, and Kelsey Ryan, director of development, are in charge of the group.

GEMS: Girls Empowered, Motivated, Successful, meets 4 to 6 p.m. every Thursday at the 14 Clayton Ave. facility.

There are ten girls in the group, enough to sit around the table in the Osborn Room, Earl said. Any more than that and the girls start having side conversations.

“It’s really important to bond as one group,” she said.

Girls support each other and bolster their sense of self. The youths have a snack, enjoy a presentation, make a meal together and share their “roses and thorns” — the positives and negatives of what happened that week.

The group is an off shoot of the summer YWCA photography class for Bridges for Kids.

“They said to me, ‘But this can’t be the end of it, Sara. We have to keep on going.’ I had to figure out a way to do that. Kelsey and I brainstormed. Even though we didn’t have any money, we would go with it.”

Mary Dykeman, an educator at Family Counseling Services, did several talks on de-escalating conflicts and anger management. The group saw the movie “Miss Representation,” on how the media shapes women, and went to the Burnett Park Zoo in Syracuse.

“We tried to do yoga, but everyone was too giggly,” said Ryan.

Rena and several of the girls said Dykeman’s talk was effective.

“Instead of hitting the person, you fight the problem. Not the person,” Rena said.

“I was a real troublemaker,” said Kaylee Barber, 12, of Cortland. “I didn’t know how to handle problems.”

One of her friends was getting bullied and being told to kill herself, she said. “We learned if someone is bullying you, tell them no.” She told a teacher, rather then let the situation simmer and boil over. “I have anger issues,” said the girl, who is also a soprano and one of ten people selected for All County Chorus.

“It’s fun,” said Haven Rundell, 14, of the group. “I like coming here. We learn about self esteem … I was a heavy fighter in seventh and eighth grade. I was taught to de-escalate a conflict,” she said.

She learned to back off and walk away. Now in ninth grade, she’s having fewer problems.

On Thursday, Alaina Ryan, an academic advisor at Tompkins Cortland Community College and sister to Kelsey Ryan, talked about note taking in class, study methods and the importance of using a planner.

One method of notes, called Cornell Note Taking, splits a page of paper into threes, with a narrow “cue column” on the left, with key words, vocabulary and people that may need research: Whos, When’s, What’s Where’s, she showed the kids.

The bottom 2 inches of the page could be used for summarizing, written last, after class, and the bulk of the page could be the note taking part in class, with main points, diagrams — the whys and hows.

“Try to take active notes in class,” she said. “Rather than thinking, ‘what are you doing tonight,” engage in the subject. Doodle on the subject.”

Ryan admitted that reading text books is a real labor for her. She can do it for a 15 minute stretch and then loses interest. She advised the kids to read their text books and estimate the time to maintain interest. Read for that time and take a break.

She also advised the kids to use flash cards to study for tests. Alazae Coggins of Homer, 11, uses study guides. Ryan advised flash cards because they are more active, writing out notes.

Kelsey Ryan asked about procrastination. She would pull all nighters in college to complete assignments. Now she can’t do that in the regular work world.

“What works for me: Do a list of everything I have to do, hardest to easiest. Do the hardest first. Get it done,” she said. “Putting off work is stressful.”