Pencil Breakers After-School Program Expands to Second Middle School

photo of Clark Moores Pencil Breakers

An after-school arts program for girls at Clark Moores Middle School, called the Pencil Breakers, is being continued — and expanded to Michael Caudill Middle School for 2012-2014. That’s thanks to a nearly $30,000 grant awarded by the Steele-Reese Foundation which funded the original program.

The main mission is to get socially shy girls involved in a small group, offer confidence-building leadership opportunities, expose the girls to positive role models in a wide range of art forms — from acting to illustrating — and engage them in community outreach projects like designing quilt blocks for Project Linus which gives quilts to families with sick children.

Those efforts have paid big dividends.

“We’ve had teachers tell us that some of the Pencil Breakers who were struggling in class now have a better focus in school, they’re getting better grades and thinking more creatively,” said Kim Quinlan, director of the Youth Services Center for Clark Moores and Caudill.

For the expanded program in the fall, the 40 girls in the two groups will meet international students attending area colleges and learn about different countries and cultures.

“Then the girls and their families can sample dishes native to those countries at a potluck dinner,” Quinlan said. “After the meal, the international students will share music, dance or some other artistic aspect of their country with us.”

The CMMS group did something similar last year with Eastern Kentucky University’s international students.

“It was a real hit with the girls,” said Marie Mitchell, an instructor in EKU’s Department of Communication and local author, who coordinates the program with Quinlan. “They had no idea that students in China attend school for more than twelve hours a day, then have homework that night.”

Quinlan added that “the girls also learned belly dancing from an Iranian student, calligraphy from a South Korean student and what a traditional wedding ceremony is like in the United Arab Emirates.”

“That couple even invited us to visit them and their family if we ever traveled to UAE,” Mitchell said. “Sadly, our grant won’t cover that.”

It does cover a field trip to Frankfort in November for the Kentucky Book Fair.

“During the past two years the CMMS girls have met with Kentucky authors George Ella Lyon and Heather Henson, who talked about their books and writing process,” Mitchell said.

This year the girls can buy any book at the Fair and have it signed by the author.

“It gives the girls more choices in the type of book they want to read and a chance to speak one-on-one with the writer,” Mitchell said.

Another field trip is planned for Louisville this fall.

“About eight girls from CMMS who have been with us from the start will speak at a Youth Services Center Conference in Louisville this fall,” Quinlan said. “We’re hoping other schools will want to start similar programs.”

In fact, the Pencil Breakers was launched in 2010 by writer Beth Dotson Brown, who created the original program in Garrard County and wanted to expand it into other counties through a Steele-Reese grant.

“Beth got us off to a great start,” Mitchell said. “Not only did we have a budget to spend, she also shared her operating guide and expertise so we could start strong with a clear vision and mission.”

“Each year we’ve had a theme,” Quinlan said. “The first year it was bullying. We read about it, talked about it and wrote a play with a theme song that we presented to the public and to elementary students in Richmond.”

“Last year we focused on self-esteem,” Mitchell said. “The girls embraced that, since middle school is a minefield as girls navigate friendships, struggle with body images and find ways to express their emerging selves.”

“The girls led workshops on self-esteem for fourth grade girls in Berea and created art pieces about self-esteem that were exhibited at the Explorium in Lexington and the Madison County Public Library in Richmond,” Quinlan said.

This year’s theme will be cyber-bullying, an appropriate topic for this age group.

“We’re thankful that the Steele-Reese Foundation saw the value in the CMMS program and supported its expansion to Caudill,” Mitchell said. “We look forward to giving them their money’s worth during the next two years.”

Published on August 13, 2012