The life of a teenage girl is often one of constant change — forming new friendships and maintaining current ones, discovering inner strengths and passions, developing confidence and staying on top of academic responsibilities. CPS’ Girls to Women leadership collaborative provides opportunities for female students in grades 9-12 to develop the character, confidence and leadership skills so necessary within and beyond the classroom.
“Research shows that girls start to lose their voice, or their confidence, as early as grade 6,” said Ife Bell, district coordinator for Girls to Women. “Our goal is to help build and restore that confidence and help students learn how they can carry themselves with authority while being empathetic leaders.”
Now in its second school year of operation, Girls to Women hosts everything from after-school meetings and Twitter chats about the latest book club reading to excursions to local companies to learn about career opportunities. A milestone event for many in the program is the annual Ruling Our Destinies Summit, typically held in September.
The summits have keynote speakers, breakout sessions and activities where students get to know young women from other CPS schools. It’s a chance to share ideas and experiences, brainstorm campaigns the young women can take back and implement at their schools, and build meaningful relationships with each other.
“Developing relationships and knowing how to be a good friend is huge in developing leadership and initiative in young women,” said Bell. “It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised through practice and open discussion. To borrow an analogy: It’s not about fighting over crumbs, it’s about making more pies.”
Complementing the variety of Girls to Women programming is the special touch and care Bell embeds into every event, activity or initiative. Students who have participated in Girls to Women often keep the quotes or inspirational phrases that Bell prints on event materials. They also sport their pride outside of Girls to Women events by wearing T-shirts, pins and sweaters earned throughout the program, all of which carry deep significance for many of the students.
“When I put on the sweater, I feel like I have a duty to fulfill,” said a recent graduate of Girls to Women in a testimonial.
Back at the school level, Girls to Women clubs implement campaigns that help motivate their peers and ultimately transform school culture. One club put affirmation stickers on bathroom mirrors throughout the school, but would have to replace them often as students would take an affirmation off the mirror, carry it around the school as a reminder, and then give the affirmation to another young woman to motivate her—a great, yet unexpected, result of the campaign.
Future plans include extending the program to grades 6, 7 and 8, with the intent to reach students in grade 4 by the 2020-21 school year. Girls to Women is also building out its mentoring program, where students are paired with community members and “near-peer” women to continue exercising their critical “networking” muscles to develop new relationships.
Learn more and keep up with Girls to Women at https://www.cps-k12.org/about-cps/district-initiatives/peer-leadership-collaboratives. Girls to Women is actively recruiting mentors and always seeks partners and leaders willing to offer personal time or financial resources. Those interested can contact Ife Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org.