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PAGE exhibition: What happens when we invest in inspiring, educating, and empowering girls

PAGE participants, their families, and donors filled Antioch United Methodist Church in Hot Springs last Thursday to celebrate the accomplishments of 50 inspiring young women. From moving stories to impassioned speeches, the PAGE exhibition highlighted what can happen when we invest in inspiring, educating, and empowering girls in rural communities.

The night began with a celebratory farm-to-table dinner for honored guests and PAGE participants. The dinner featured food from local farms — trout from Sunburst Trout Farms, chicken from Mackey Farm, and cornbread made from East Fork Farm corn — but the collective favorite was the steaming hot blueberry cobbler.

Not only are the girls fed local, organic food daily, but PAGE has also opened their eyes to how delicious healthy food can be. As one girl said, “I wasn’t used to organic food, but when I ate the first lunch, I fell in love.” Another participant raved about her breakfast: “Breakfast was amazing. Today we had blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, a zucchini muffin and yogurt.”

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“We believe that everyone has a unique and powerful story to tell, and PAGE allows the girls to do just that” – Rebecca Trinklein, PAGE college intern

With their families watching, ten girls had the chance to present their digital stories — powerful stories of love, family, companionship, and place. Scarlet told the story of her personalities —  Todd, Stuart, Scarlet, or Ramos — which she uses to make her friends laugh. Maggie told the story of her difficult move to a new school that turned out to be the perfect fit for her. And Delana told her story about her unwavering love for her father. As the girls shared their stories, often about family members in the room, tears fell as family and guests alike experienced the emotion in each unique story.  Three of these stories are posted here.

Promoting literacy through public speaking

Along with the digital stories, PAGE promotes literacy and critical-thinking skills through literature groups. At the exhibition, groups had the chance to introduce the audience to the books they’ve grown to love over the summer. One group read I Am Malala, the true story of a Pakistani girl who fought for her education, was shot by the Taliban, and became an advocate for girls’ education worldwide.

Inspired by Malala’s passion to advocate for something in which she believes, the literature group wrote their own speeches about issues that are close to their hearts. Three PAGE girls, Brittany, Maggie, and Autumn, delivered their speeches at the exhibition. Demonstrating incredible poise and confidence, the girls advocated for openness to diversity, animal rights, and following your dream:

“If someone dresses or talks different than you, don’t judge them. We are all human beings.” – Brittany Norton

“Give them [animals] the life you promised.” – Maggie Crow

“I”m here to tell you, if you have a dream, go for it.” – Autumn Beckner

Our challenges are opportunities

As the night came to a close with the singing of “I’ll Fly Away,” I was left thinking, what if every student were given the opportunities and support that these girls receive from PAGE? Imagine what we could accomplish. One PAGE girl’s story in particular is an example of this — from being removed from her family by DSS to being raised by her grandparents to understanding what it is like to have access to food and health care to discovering in school that she loves reading and science experiments — you can see all of the challenges and, more importantly, the opportunities our schools face.

Molly Osborne

Molly Osborne is the director of policy for EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.