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Girl Rising Yields Great Experience in Guatemala

By Jodi Berry
Girl Rising Yields Great Experience in Guatemala

Approximately 340 middle school students from the American School of Guatemala filed into the auditorium, filling each row in boy-girl order. Following the rules of seniority, the 8th grade relaxed at the front, 7th grade took the middle rows, and 6th grade, per tradition, settled in the back. Students and teachers spent the next 80 minutes captivated by the groundbreaking documentary Girl Rising.
The film narrates the hardship and triumph faced by nine girls who live in the developing world. Girl Rising delivers a simple, yet powerful truth: educating girls will change the world.
After watching the documentary, 8th graders broke into small groups to prepare a plan to facilitate mixed grade-level dialogues in just 30 minutes time. Groups brainstormed questions, wrote down statistics, devised strategies to deepen thought, made connections to Guatemala, and contrived ways to break the dreaded, awkward silence.
The students used the Socratic Seminar framework to lead peer discussions. Teacher Emily Raasch says, “The purpose of a Socratic Seminar is to give students the opportunity to have a genuine conversation about something they have read. Students are encouraged to facilitate an engaging discussion while thinking critically about the content and fully explaining their ideas.” Students have been working with Socratic Seminar throughout the school year. Only this time, instead of working with literature, students used the statistics, stories, and images from the film to guide the discussion.
The 30-minute preparation time had passed, and it was on to the dialogues. Not only did 8th graders have to maintain direction and flow, but they also had to challenge their peers to examine, draw conclusions, and connect the film to Guatemalan society. Additionally, students had to create an inviting atmosphere in which group members felt safe and comfortable to speak freely. Teachers became observers and were given the task of not participating, but merely listening to the dialogues and completing an evaluation of the 8th grader’s performance.
Both students and observers agreed that most dialogues seemed like a yo-yo of uneasy silence and energetic spurts of talking, only sprinkled with moments of perfect balance and flow. At times, teachers had to fight involuntary urges to fill the silence, but then a student would ask a magic, climacteric question like, “Which girl from the movie do you think is the bravest?” or “Have you met someone here in Guatemala who has overcome adversity like the girls in the movie?”
The dialogue would suddenly shift and students would wake from their verbal comas. Teacher Michelle Urdiales said that 8th graders, “respected all opinions and tried to include everyone into the dialogue. I was so excited to hear the great comments from students, and how they concluded that education will solve these problems.” Peers proved to each other the importance of education and identified the need to take action. Students brainstormed ways they could make a difference by creating helpful service learning projects at school and taking advantage of community service opportunities.
An additional, after-school screening was offered to all students, faculty and staff of both the American School of Guatemala and the affiliate Universidad del Valle. These screenings prompted other schools around Guatemala to also screen the film.
In March, a group of students traveled a couple hours south of Guatemala City to Santa Lucia, Cotzumalguapa to share student-led dialogues with the high school students of Colegio Americano del Sur. Students were able to demonstrate the simple, budget-friendly use of Socratic Seminars in the classroom.
All in all, the Girl Rising event spun a web of interrelated, learning experiences for everyone involved. Eighth graders accepted the responsibilities of leadership and civic duty, while 6th and 7th graders deepened their understanding of education in the developing world and Guatemala.
Visit the Girl Rising website and view the full trailer at

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