Odette Rushing attended Girls Inc. programs. Now she’s teaching our third-grade girls reading strategies to read at grade level.
When Odette joined Girls Inc. as an elementary school participant, she was shy, but Girls Inc. was a safe space where she developed confidence and skills for success. Now, starting out her second year of teaching an afterschool class of Girls Inc. third graders, she is determined that girls receive the kind of life-changing experience she had.
Academically, Odette’s focus is literacy, and like all Girls Inc. elementary staff, she attends numerous trainings on evidence-based literacy strategies. Odette uses these strategies, along with her own personal experience, to engage girls. Last year, she even encouraged girls to read by having them work on a book she’d loved as a child. They couldn’t get enough of the book, or of their teacher’s very authentic love of reading.
Odette knows she’s teaching girls at a critical time—that grade-level reading in third grade predicts future success, including high school graduation. This fact helps keep her motivated, and keeps her encouraging kids if their motivation lags. As she puts it, “there are days they’re tired, but I constantly keep reminding them why it’s important.”
As important as literacy is, it’s not the only thing Odette wants girls to get out of her classroom. When she was a student in Oakland Unified School District, she remembers the power of having a safe space to go after school, a space completely different from the school day. That’s something she wants to make sure her girls have, too.
Odette creates this kind of environment using the skills and training she has been taught by Girls Inc. She encourages girls to develop group agreements and classroom norms; helping them build positive relationships with one another; and, of course, being the kind of supportive role model she’d had when she was a participant.
Odette can already see this work pay off. One girl, for example, struggled at the beginning of last year, and at first, she didn’t want to talk about it. But with time, consistency, and patience, she now stays in class and will talk with Odette about what she’s feeling. In fact, she’s even talking with Odette about broader issues in the school-day classroom—and they’re starting to think through solutions.
As this new year begins, Odette continues to have high hopes for all her girls. When asked what she wants them to know, she says, “That they can have a place where they feel super confident… and then [that] they can make that space in their own life— friend groups, family, whatever that may be. Once you feel what that safe space looks like, feels like, you can put it in place for others.”