Women@PROS Inspire Houston Girls to Dream Big

When Kim Watson and Emily Zinsitz learned about Citizen Schools through their “Women@PROS” group they wanted to get involved and teach an apprenticeship, but they weren’t sure what to teach. Their roles at PROS differ from one another so they wanted to find a subject they could teach together. Kim is a Manager of Professional Services and deals more with math, while Emily is a Content Strategist who works with product documentation. Beautiful Girls was a natural fit. “We understand that there is a need for encouraging girls at this age,” said Kim. “We wanted to be encouraging adults for the students to show them that they can go into ours fields of math and science.” In Beautiful Girls, girls develop the beliefs and confidence they need to be successful in school and beyond.

Emily and Kim’s dedication and passion to positively influence girls at Jackson Middle School in Houston, Texas is obvious. We are pleased to recognize them as the November Citizen Teachers of the Month!

Meet Emily and Kim...

Why do you think it's important to provide students with real-world, hands-on opportunities?

Emily: It’s not so much these students can’t imagine what careers are like, but there is a big difference between being aware that women have these roles and actually seeing women who do. I also think it’s important for people outside of their immediate family and friends to take an interest in them and engage with them. I want to show these girls how one can make it from middle school girl to career women.

Kim: In middle school it is important to see people you can relate to. No one else in my family had graduated from college when I was in middle school. I think it’s important to share my experience with the girls and show them that they can achieve their goals and go to college too.

How does your apprenticeship incorporate science and math?

Emily: We have lessons on nutrition and exercise and incorporate the science side of health, but mainly we use science to explain questions they have. We have a question box where they can ask us anything, and middle school girls have many questions. It’s great when we’re able to say, “there is research to show why this is true!” We like to use science to explain things they normally just speculate.

Kim: We stress communication and try to make sure the girls have a vehicle to ask questions they don’t typically get answered.

What was an "aha" or "WOW" moment for you this semester?

Kim: When we were doing family trees (Emily chimes in in agreement) and the girls started teaching each other. They all come from different backgrounds and began to share their cultural differences. One student began talking about arranged marriage and sharing how that is part of her story.

Emily: The students started to talk about how their parents met, sharing different stories but also surfacing commonalities.

What surprised you most about the students/teaching experience?

Kim: The students’ willingness to try things. For one session I had planned an activity and said, “Go across the room like an alligator!” I was shocked that they were so willing to do it. They all started squirming around. The goal was to show them that exercise doesn’t have to be hard. It can be silly and fun. I am also surprised by how open the students are to share with each other, they are really into it.

Emily: They are so engaged, they love the question box. They are so curious. We shared a SciShow YouTube video explaining the science behind craving junk food and carbs and the next week we came in to find that the girls are now following SciShow on twitter.

275 acrossKim: In another class we made granola bars as an activity to discuss the benefits of making your own snacks since you can control what goes into them. Emily started teaching fractions by using measuring cups, making the girls add them together when there wasn’t a single cup for the right amount.

Emily: That was so much fun! We had no idea how we were going to do this activity with the girls. Once we got into the class we had each girl take an ingredient or a utensil so they could all take part. It came together well.

What skills did you gain or develop by teaching the students?

Emily: There is nothing like being in a room with 6th grade girls. I work in communications but this is a completely different audience. I have to think about the language that will make sense to them.

Kim: It has brought me right back into teaching and remembering how to talk on their level and relate to them. We constantly check in with the girls to ensure that they know the language and terms we are using.

What advice would you give future volunteers?

Kim: It’s worth it! I talk to many people who are hesitant and worried about the time commitment and teaching. While it is a time commitment, we are having so much fun.

Emily: I totally agree with that. Our first week was hard and the lesson didn’t take. Within a couple weeks it has totally changed. I’d say stick it out. Lesson to lesson things change, even the atmosphere can change.  Once you have a good lesson they will be engaged and the connection will be formed.