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SisterKeeper mentoring program changing the conversation among girls at Bryan Station HS

“We’re trying to really empower them to be strong young women,” said Whitney Young, the Youth Services Center coordinator at BSHS. (Photo from FCPS)

When several dozen Bryan Station students spent an hour dissecting the phrase “like a girl,” the mood shifted noticeably as the conversation turned from hurtful stereotypes toward life-giving affirmations.

The reclaim-the-language exercise was the focus at a recent gathering of SisterKeeper, a mentoring initiative between high school and middle school girls. Lanisha Hostler, principal of the Leadership Academy at BSHS, organized the group to foster empowerment and self-esteem, unpack the pitfalls of social media, provide academic support, and help BSMS girls transition successfully to high school. Team building and community service are also in the mix.

The students brainstormed “like a girl” and jotted highly charged words and phrases on Post-It notes – words like “soft,” “not good enough,” and “fake.” (Photo from FCPS)

“Once you go to high school, sometimes you might get lost in the shuffle. Having someone to talk to who’s older to explain their experiences and what they’ve gone through is a great thing for a lot of students,” said Roxanne Brown, the Youth Services Center coordinator at Bryan Station Middle School. “The girls want someone like a sister, someone they can trust … somebody in your corner no matter what.”

Early this semester, the organizers invited 68 eighth graders, and 43 accepted. Across campus, about 30 high school students volunteered for the new program, which includes club members from Ladies Leading Tomorrow, the PEARL Academy, and Leading Latinas. “This brings all the groups together as sisters,” said Marisol Valles, community liaison at BSHS and adviser of the Latinas club. For her part, senior Rhiona Marshall wants to ensure the younger girls stay focused on their goals. “I get to provide insights on being a girl through high school. I hope to be that person they look up to,” Rhiona said. “We’re starting to form bonds, and eventually we’ll get our own little sisters.”

After the video, the collective mood brightened as students shared out positive qualities #LikeAGirl such as “successful.” (Photo from FCPS)

In late February, all the students huddled in small groups to brainstorm “like a girl” and jotted highly charged words and phrases on Post-It notes – words like “soft,” “not good enough,” and “fake.” Then they watched a short video called “Rewrite the Rules” that prompted the 180.

The atmosphere in the BSMS cafeteria changed dramatically as the students described how the video made them feel and shared out upbeat phrases like “nothing to be ashamed of” and “keep doing ‘me.’” Now their colorful signs featured words like fierce, bold, accomplished, and unstoppable – all with the hashtag #LikeAGirl. After this simple activity, their confidence rose and smiles abounded as the girls took turns snapping photos with their new mottos.

“It was a good way for the girls to freely express themselves, and there was no pressure,” said 13-year-old Michelle Moore, who led the pledge circle to close the meeting. “It might take time to open up, but with the leaders and the high school girls with us, I definitely think the girls will start opening up more with anything they have questions on,” she added. “It’s an extra support system.”

Students made colorful signs for their new mottos and took turns snapping photos. (Photo from FCPS)

Hostler had heard about the SisterKeeper model at a training last summer and brought it to Bryan Station. In the kickoff session, the older teenagers talked about the importance of a positive self-image, and all the students made valentines for nursing home residents on the North side.

“We’re sampling it and seeing how it works for our school,” said Whitney Young, the Youth Services Center coordinator. “We’re going week by week because we want to see how the girls build rapport before we get really, really deep with social media and personal relationships.”

Plans are for SisterKeeper to meet twice a month on Friday mornings.

“Our program focuses on building leaders and providing students with opportunities to lead and learn how to develop healthy relationships with peers,” Young explained. “We’re trying to really empower them to be strong young women. They’re learning by watching a peer, especially someone they look up to. We hope it promotes student success in and out of the classroom.”

From Fayette County Public Schools

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