This Baltimore school helps girls step up for college

Last Updated by Nancy Rogan on

PBS NewsHour
August 11, 2017

JUDY WOODRUFF: A new documentary captures the power of art to change lives.

“Step” follows students from the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, or BLSYW. It’s a middle and high school.

As an art form, step started in Africa and became popular in the United States as it was adopted and transformed by members of predominantly African-American fraternities and sororities. BLSYW has one primary goal for its students: 100 percent college acceptance.

But you will see, that wasn’t the only success. Have a look.

PAULA DOFAT, Director of College Counseling: Step is not dance. Dancing or step dancing or a dance number? No, it’s step.

BLESSIN GIRALDO, Step Team Founder: Step is life because it taught me a lot about myself.

PAULA DOFAT: Making good use of your body. Your body makes the percussion.

Clapping, stomping, military movement, the spoken word, gymnastics, cheerleading, making literally music with your bodies.

BLESSIN GIRALDO: That was the first place where I could practice my natural abilities, being a leader, teaching discipline, learning how to be disciplined.

I’m Blessin Giraldo. I’m the captain of the BLSYW step team, also the founder.

PAULA DOFAT: I was their first step team adviser, not their coach, but their adviser.

My name is Paula Dofat. I’m the director of college counseling for the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.

GARI MCINTYRE, Step Coach: I was hired just to coach the ladies. My hidden agenda was to mentor them.

My name is Gari McIntyre, also known as Coach G.

BLESSIN GIRALDO: She wanted us to use our voice, black women, not only a minority, but from an urban community like Baltimore.

PAULA DOFAT: I want to have three main principles that we follow, solidarity, discipline and self-esteem.

STUDENT: I like the step because it’s empowering.

STUDENT: It’s a form of art that brings us all together.

BLESSIN GIRALDO: Believing in someone plays a huge part of confidence and performance and the outcome of the common goal, which for us is to go to college.

PAULA DOFAT: I was put on earth to do this kind of work, to be a college counselor, to help students to get from point A to point B on their success plan.

GARI MCINTYRE: I have a purpose. And no matter what you’re doing, when people show your appreciation, you feel refueled and you feel like your purpose has been met.

BLESSIN GIRALDO: It kind of makes me really emotional, because I don’t know where I would be without my school. And I feel like I was put in this predicament. I would consider myself one of the lucky ones from our city.

GARI MCINTYRE: I think without the structure of BLSYW, step, and Paula Dofat, a lot of these girls would be lost, as I was when I graduated high school.

PAULA DOFAT: From the time they come in, in sixth grade, they’re taught about self-advocacy, they’re taught about the support of their sisters, they’re taught about taking responsibility for their actions.

BLESSIN GIRALDO: I wouldn’t blame anyone else but myself, but it was somebody that I had to battle with every day to not be defeated, not having the best amount of support in my immediate environment, which wasn’t at BLSYW, or maybe not having food in our refrigerator, or not having the lights.

GARI MCINTYRE: Step, I truly think, is what gave them the discipline, what gives them the drive to keep on going academically, because you can’t be on the step team if your grades are not right.

BLESSIN GIRALDO: Being a subject of a documentary, signing up for that, it wasn’t easy. It was really hard. You want to inspire, but, in order to do that, you have to be honest. And that’s how you lead with integrity.

PAULA DOFAT: Most people, the first thing they — the word that comes to mind when they have seen the film and their reaction is that it’s inspiring, not just their struggles, but how they triumph over their struggles.

BLESSIN GIRALDO: It’s not brave if you’re not afraid. There were moments when I felt like I did want to cut the camera off. I knew that that moment was probably a moment of where I might have felt embarrassed or had to take a double-take of if I wanted somebody to see this.

PAULA DOFAT: We are absolutely exceptional, but I don’t think we are the exception. We did it in year two, class of 2017, 100 percent college acceptance, and we took it up one notch. Ten percent of that graduating class are on full-ride scholarships.

BLESSIN GIRALDO: The day the documentary premiered in Baltimore, there was no murders that day, August 4.

And, to me, I felt like that was a symbol of how much this movie can unite people and change people’s perceptions of Baltimore.

Click here to watch the report.

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