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The Pencil Breakers
17 Sep 2013
Published To

Middle school is a minefield for most girls as they become more critical of their appearance, friendships and self-worth. An after-school arts program for girls at two middle schools in Richmond, Kentucky, offers opportunities for girls to join a nonjudgmental group that exposes them to other cultures, introduces them to successful career women, engages them in outreach projects and provides a chance for them to be role models for younger girls. Through funding by the Steele-Reese Foundation, Kentucky Foundation for Women and local grants, the Pencil Breakers have made a name for themselves by helping out their schools and community.

The Pencil Breakers was launched at Clark Moores Middle School in 2010-11, thanks to a Steele-Reese grant written by Kentucky author Beth Dotson Brown. Brown, in Garrad County, wanted to expand her program to cultivate quiet, shy girls into more confident leaders. Fellow author, Marie Mitchell, partnered with Youth Services Director, Kim Quinlan, to do just that in Richmond.

The first year, the Pencil Breakers designed a t-shirt for the group, met with Kentucky author George Ella Lyon about her writing process, learned to draw with illustrator Ryan Lanigan, discovered what a Civil War soldier’s life was like through a re-creation with author Mason Smith, strummed songs on the state instrument, the Appalachian Mountain dulcimer, designed quilt squares for Project Linus, led workshops against bullying for younger girls and wrote an anti-bullying theme song, “Bullying No More,” with songwriter Jennifer Rose Escobar.

Our second year we introduced the Pencil Breakers to different cultures by playing South Korean games with Lucy, applying henna tattoos with Amna and practicing calligraphy with Xi Xi. The girls made fleece pillows and sold them at the Lexington Explorium’s Museum Go Round which promotes young entrepreneurs. We focused on self-esteem and discussed toxic friends: ditchers, backstabbers and users. The girls decorated mirrors for their lockers with uplifting messages about being smart and amazing. Pencil Breakers led a “Grow With Confidence” workshop for fourth grade girls in Berea and hung an “I Like Myself This Big” self-esteem exhibit at the Explorium.

Last year we expanded our program to Caudill Middle School. We continued our international theme in the fall, learning some Swahili with Iddah from Kenya, bellydancing with Mahsa from Iran and making worry dolls with Miriam, a high school student who’d studied in Guatemala. We hosted an International Night for students and their families at Clark Moores and raised $400 for Prince of Peace, an orphanage for girls in Guatemala. We met numerous authors at the Kentucky Book Fair. Some of our eighth graders shared the success of our program during a state Youth Service Center conference in Louisville. The girls researched our theme, cyber-bullying, and presented an interactive workshop to younger girls in Richmond. This year we’re working with the Madison County Extension Service about leadership.

The girls will organize outreach programs with the Humane Society, a day care center and senior citizen’s center, plus conduct a workshop with elementary school girls in Richmond.


The artist or arts organization telling this story was supported in part by a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. KFW is based on the belief that when women and girls advance, so does Kentucky. For more information about the foundation and the social change artmaking being done by the individuals and organizations it supports, visit www.kfw.org." 

Art Fiction Multimedia Non-Fiction Poetry Song Challenges Community Cross-Cultural Culture Education Empowerment Gender Rural - International Rural-Urban Women Youth Books/Writing Project/Initiative School/Camp Southeast Student Visual Artist Writer
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