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Thinking Outside the Girl Box

Teaming Up with Resilient Youth in Appalachia

By Linda Spatig

Publication Year: 2014

Thinking Outside the Girl Box is a true story about a remarkable youth development program in rural West Virginia. Based on years of research with adolescent girls — and adults who devoted their lives to working with them — Thinking Outside the Girl Box reveals what is possible when young people are challenged to build on their strengths, speak and be heard, and engage critically with their world.

Based on twelve years of field research, the book traces the life of the Lincoln County Girls’ Resiliency Program (GRP), a grassroots, community nonprofit aimed at helping girls identify strengths, become active decision makers, and advocate for social change. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the GRP flourished. Its accomplishments were remarkable: girls recorded their own CDs, published poetry, conducted action research, opened a coffeehouse, performed an original play, and held political rallies at West Virginia’s State Capitol. The organization won national awards, and funding flowed in. Today, in 2013, the programming and organization are virtually nonexistent.

Thinking Outside the Girl Box raises pointed questions about how to define effectiveness and success in community-based programs and provides practical insights for anyone working with youth. Written in an accessible, engaging style and drawing on collaborative ethnographic research that the girls themselves helped conduct, the book tells the story of an innovative program determined to challenge the small, disempowering “boxes” girls and women are so often expected to live in.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Praise, Other Works in the Series, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: The Nutshell. Or, The What, When, How, Where, Who, and Why

Linda Spatig

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pp. ix-xviii

This book is a true story about a group of girls in rural West Virginia and a group of adults who devoted years of their lives to working with them. Though people in universities might call it a study about “community-based youth development,” I call it a love story. It’s a story about a program for girls in a poor area of West Virginia where opportunities...

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Introduction: When I Fell in Love with Shelley Gaines

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pp. 1-10

Every good love story has to start with a time and place—you know, to set the scene—and this one is no different.
It’s the spring of 1999. I am sitting in my university office, surrounded by menacingly tall stacks of student papers and scribbled field notes from ongoing research projects. A large wooden sculpture sits perched on my...

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1. Ric: Context Matters. Or, Lincoln County, West Virginia: “I Love It. I’ll Leave Someday.”

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pp. 11-31

“So, where are we now?” I squinted out the window of Ric MacDowell’s Prius and tried to find anything recognizable in the endless progression of trees, hills, and intermittently placed homes of Lincoln County, West Virginia. Ric was giving me a driving tour of the area, and I was starting to understand why the field notes of every member of my research...

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2. Shelley: The Birth of the GRP. It’s a Girl (-Driven Program)!

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pp. 32-47

“No, I’m not going to buy you that class ring—because you’re not going to graduate high school, anyhow.”
As a teenager, Shelley Gaines’s best friend Jamie (name changed) faced many family expectations, but not the kind that make you want to work hard, study, and go to college. “There was nobody who said, you...

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3. Teresa: The Girls Have More to Say Than They Thought They Did

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pp. 48-66

When I met her, twelve-year-old Teresa was far from a boisterous, assertive adolescent girl.
One of the first and youngest members of the Girls’ Resiliency Program, Teresa initially came across as quiet, defensive, and withdrawn. She had a short stature and thick, shoulder-length brown hair that she almost seemed to hide behind. My graduate student who first interviewed...

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4. Cassi: “They Will Make You Eat That.” Or, Tales of New Experiences and Adventure

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pp. 67-94

Cassi Adkins, an extremely conscientious and organized student, made only two “Bs” in high school: tenth-grade gym class and twelfth-grade civics. Smiley faces, A ’s, and notes of “excellent work” cover her tests and papers. A self-portrait collage she created includes cut-out magazine snippets of the phrases follow your passion, vibrant, sisterhood, and best. Cassi’s...

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5. Irene and Virginia: Girls Take the Lead, but “It’s Hard Coming from a Participant to Staff”

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pp. 95-114

At age seventeen, Virginia had that “I don’t know” syndrome so common to young women—one of the most severe cases I’ve ever seen. In one interview, she responded with “I don’t know” fifteen times in the course of a four-page transcript.
The interviewer wanted to know how she had changed after five years in the...

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6. Leanne and Betty: The GRP Collapses, but the Learning Goes On (and On)

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pp. 115-136

“Well, it got a little out of control sometimes,” admitted LeAnne Olson, a doctoral student of mine, breaking off a piece of her cheddar biscuit at a local seafood restaurant. Tucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear, she broke into a laugh.
LeAnne, Layne, and I were meeting to talk about GRP research— primarily conducted in recent years by two of my...

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7. Ashley: Life after the GRP. Or, “College Is a Big Smack in the Face.”

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pp. 137-165

Ashley advised me, “Everything will be fine.” Her pep talk was in response to my bad case of the jitters before a presentation of our collaborative research at my university. During the presentation, just looking at Ashley sitting by me on the stage, so calm and collected, helped me relax—at least a little.
A friend of Cassi’s and one of the last to join the Girls’ Resiliency...

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8. Linda and Layne: There’s a (Research) Method to Our Madness

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pp. 166-194

“I don’t want to sit next to him,” Billy announced as he stood up and brushed himself off. Jordan had just given him a friendly punch in the arm, which resulted in Billy’s chair turning over to considerable laughter. “Okay,” I responded, not sure how to proceed as I continued to arrange chairs. “Would anyone else like to sit here?” No volunteers—just some...

Notes

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pp. 195-196

References

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pp. 197-208

Index

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pp. 209-216


E-ISBN-13: 9780821444672
E-ISBN-10: 0821444670
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821420607
Print-ISBN-10: 0821420607

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 238
Series Title: Race, Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia
Series Editor Byline: Marie Tedesco and Christopher A. Green, Series Editors

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Subject Headings

  • Young women -- West Virgina -- Lincoln County.
  • Youth development -- West Virgina -- Lincoln County.
  • Teenage girls -- West Virgina -- Lincoln County -- Life skills guides.
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