Saturday, July 13, 2024

Shine On! conf. connects 120 girls to eclipse

Girls grades three through five use the rock climbing wall in Memorial Hall March 2 under their trained mentors’ supervision. The workshop teaches girls to set high goals for themselves even when the path is challenging.

 

By Aleksandra Sidorova

Shine On!’s annual conference took an astronomical twist, complete with a planetarium show. The conference hosted 120 girls overnight March 2 and 3 in SUNY Plattsburgh’s Memorial Hall.
In anticipation of the total solar eclipse April 8, this year’s conference theme was “Eclipse the doubt. Let your light shine out.” It featured 12 workshops aimed at building character strength, communication skills and media literacy. Eight were held at Memorial Hall and four at Hudson Hall, including a show at the North Country Planetarium.
Since 2017, confidence in girls between fifth and 11th grade has declined, with the biggest declines being recorded among the youngest of 17,502 girls, according to a 2023 report by Ruling Our Experiences, an organization that has been researching girls’ mental health since 2006. Shine On! is a program based in SUNY Plattsburgh dedicated to building confidence and resilience in girls as well as preventing or reducing mental health issues in the future.
Besides the 120 girls from grades third through fifth, the conference had 20 presenters — some of whom brought their own daughters — and 32 SUNY Plattsburgh student mentors.
Most of the activities fell on the first day. Themed workshops at Memorial included both physical activities and discussions. The physical activities were rock climbing, lessons in self-defense and an improv session in which girls acted out a skit illustrating a personality strength using props. The discussions centered on online safety, social media presence and which spaces the girls felt safe, unsafe and brave in.

By Aleksandra Sidorova
Girls use collage materials to illustrate which spaces they feel safe, unsafe and brave in as part of the “Creating a Brave Space” workshop.

Other activities at Memorial included Cosmic Cash, a hopscotch-based game teaching responsible spending habits, and Cosmic Clicks, a session exploring falsehoods on social media. Inspired by the video game Among Us, the goal of Cosmic Clicks was for girls to find the social media “impostor” — an image in their worksheet that has been edited or AI-generated. In Cosmic Clicks, girls could also have a polaroid taken of them, to capture them without a filter.
Hudson featured a 30-minute planetarium show explaining the different kinds of eclipses and what the total solar eclipse on April 8 might look like. The remaining three workshops established connections between scientific principles like the solar system and phases of the moon, artistic expression and personal growth.
On Day 2, the girls participated in a scavenger hunt. They also had a penpal activity, in which they wrote a letter to another girl from their group assigned to them. This letter allows the girls to stay in touch with each other after the conference.
“When they go home, they get to open up the letter and see who it’s from,” said Kimberly Ramsaroop, Shine On!’s public relations specialist. “It’s kind of sweet, because we’re helping them stay off of social media.”
To navigate the activities, the girls were split into eight groups with 15 girls and four mentors each. The groups followed a rotation, moving from one workshop to the next.
All 120 girls and their women mentors spent the night in one of Memorial’s indoor game courts, using the sleeping bags they brought with them. Shine On!’s planning committee slept in the main lobby, serving as “guard dogs,” Ramsaroop said.
Girls left with keepsakes, which included an eclipse-themed button, eclipse-viewing glasses, a T-shirt, a drawstring bag and any prizes they won during the workshops.
“Whenever we have little games like this, we do have prizes for the winners, but we try to make sure everyone’s a winner by the end of the day,” Ramsaroop said.
The activities were designed with three principles in mind: safety, learning and fun, Shine On! Founder Colleen Lemza said. The student members of Shine On!’s outreach team and planning committee intentionally planned the activities to include physical activity and plenty of social interaction. After all, parents aren’t allowed to send their girls in with any phones or electronics.
“We don’t want them to be completely glued to their phones or their iPads,” Ramsaroop said. “We want them to be active, which is why we’re also incorporating a lot of physical activities. … We also take into account that we want them to meet new people and to be social.”
The student team designed the activities to keep girls engaged with shorter attention spans in mind, as well.

By Aleksandra Sidorova
Girls look up at the show about eclipses projected on the dome ceiling inside the North Country Planetarium March 2.

 

Members learn from girls, too. Ramsaroop said that seeing the girls gaining more and more confidence throughout the day as they get comfortable with the people around them gave her some confidence of her own. Shine On! Committee Chair Molly Nelligan sees the fruits of the group’s labor.
“You don’t realize how much it means to them, putting on an event like this,” Nelligan said. “When you’re sitting there, looking at all of them having such a good time, it’s one of those things where you step back at what you planned and you just see how much it means to them and their families.”
Active for more than 15 years, Shine On! has become a pillar in the North Country Community, and its annual conference is in high demand. This year was the first that Shine On! was able to offer everyone on the waitlist a spot. Nelligan and Ramsaroop recalled conference spots sometimes being filled within 15 minutes of registration opening.
“Even if you open (registration) like a minute late, the parents will literally flood the email, flood socials — ‘Where is it?’” Nelligan said.
Shine On! announces the date to register for its annual conference on its social media in advance, and the link is available on its website, shineongirl.org. It also does outreach to local schools, providing them with flyers to give to parents.
Sometimes, girls attend Shine On!’s conferences multiple years in a row. Ramsaroop noted at least one girl who arrived wearing a shirt from last year’s conference, also held in Memorial.
Shine On! budgets up to $10,000 for its conference. In the semester leading up to the conference, student members practice grant writing and outreach to sponsors.

Aleksandra Sidorova
As part of the “Rolling with the Phases” workshop, girls relate the phases of the moon to phases of their personal growth March 2 in Hudson Hall.
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