By Joel Hall
After graduating from Clark Atlanta University as a speech communications major, Shacole Pearman is boosting the self-esteem of local girls through the arts of speech and dance.
Several months ago, the San Diego, Calif., native started the G.I.R.L.S. (Girlie Intelligent Radiant Lovable 'Sistahs') program at the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center. The 12-week program targets girls between the ages of nine and twelve , and teaches them interpersonal skills, public speaking, and teamwork through dance.
Pearman, who serves as a programs coordinator with the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department, said she came up with the program in 2004, and did it in coordination with three metro Atlanta Boys and Girls Clubs in 2006 as her senior project. She found many of the girls at the centers lacked confidence and conversation skills.
"They were very bright girls, but they wouldn't say the right words," said Pearman. "They would say 'ain't' instead of 'isn't' and they weren't really comfortable in a group."
Pearman started with a public-speaking component, teaching girls how to maintain eye contact, avoid gesticulating during speeches, speak with confidence, and give others their attention when others are speaking.
"I then thought maybe it could be more than public speaking," said Pearman. "If I put the dance component in it, it could add something fun to it."
Pearman, who recently finished her first class taught through the parks and recreation department, brought in professional dancers to teach the girls Hip-Hop, step, and other dance forms, then gave the girls a chance to create their own moves. After each session, the girls came together in a "unity circle" in which all the girls touched feet and twice repeat the mantra, "Unity is the function of more than one committing themselves to one."
The girls enrolled in the class showed off their skills earlier this month during a "Poetry Explosion" event at the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center, in which the girls performed dances, and self-written poetry.
Veda McNeal, a fitness instructor at the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center, enrolled her 10 year-old daughter, Sydney, in the course. She said the class has given her daughter a new sense of confidence.
"The thing that really impressed me about the program totally was the public speaking, because my daughter is really shy," said McNeal. "The same things I learned in college about public speaking, they were learning in class, and to learn that at such an early age is very beneficial. She is not afraid anymore to get up and share something with people."
McNeal said that several months ago, her daughter received an invitation to a statewide beauty pageant for teenagers, but "had never even thought about" entering. Now, she said, her daughter wants to go to the orientation.
"It kind of made her come out of her little shell," said McNeal. "She is starting to think about Sydney as a poised, confident woman and that's what I wanted."
"When you go out, you are not just representing yourself," said Pearman. "It's very important for girls to learn how to be able to communicate with others."
The next G.I.R.L.S. class will be offered in September at the Jim Huie Recreation Center in Jonesboro. The class is free. For more information, call the parks and recreation department at (770) 477-3766.