California Educator

March 2016

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Scott Buschman Self-respect and confidence — it's a girl thing T he most important lesson eighth-grader Nora Washington learned at Pinacate Middle School didn't happen in the classroom . It occurred during Girls Night In , an event designed to boost girls' self-esteem. It was organized by teacher Vickey Mueller, a member and past president of Perris Second- ary Educators. "I learned that if I don't like something about myself, I can change it," says Washington. "I learned that I can be who I want to be. And it's important to be me — without worrying that others will judge me." Mueller has long urged girls to be confident and true to themselves in the STEM courses she teaches in the school's Project Lead the Way, which incor- porates 3-D printers and robotics. But she felt to truly make a difference in their lives, she would have to do more. So she organized Girls Night In, a sleepover event at the school that encourages "girl power" through cama- raderie, team building, and conversations that focus on making informed choices and self-respect. It began as an offshoot of the national Friday Night Live program called Club Live, which fosters positive and healthy development for middle schoolers of both sexes. There have been three Girls Night In events at Pinacate, which has a highly diverse and economically challenged popula- tion. Mueller's program is based on the "40 developmental assets" that the Search Institute has identified as helping adolescents grow into caring and coping adults. Mueller's goal is for girls to look in the mirror, like what they see, and realize that they are beautiful and smart just the way they are. She discusses the importance of dressing and behaving in ways that helps girls be taken seriously by others. "If you have to keep pulling and rearranging your clothes, they don't fit," she tells them. She encourages females to be allies, not enemies, to reduce bullying. At Girls Night In, the 30 participants play games to learn more about each other — and all the things they have in common — which fosters empathy, understanding and compassion. Sometimes there is crying when someone opens up emotionally. Mueller believes she is having an impact. Recently she ran into some stu- dents she worked with two years ago; they both still have self-affirmation In Vickey's words: I AM MOTIVATED TO DO THIS BECAUSE… I was an abused child. I became pregnant at 13, had a baby at 14, and put the baby up for adoption. I did not feel safe. I want these girls to feel safe and know that there is someone here they can trust, and help them find their way. I want to be the person for them who wasn't there for me. WHEN I HEAR OTHER SCHOOL EMPLOYEES SAY… it's not our job to teach girls to value themselves, I reply it absolutely is our job to teach them responsibility and how to make good choices and respect their bodies and themselves. In our society, girls are getting other messages from music, media and celebrity culture. Today's kids, especially if they are raised in poverty, don't always have the tools to develop these life skills without our help. And girls are meaner today. With social media, everyone jumps on the bandwagon to criticize others. I INVITE GIRLS TO PARTICIPATE IN GIRLS NIGHT IN WHO… need a helping hand. The other day I saw a girl wearing a shirt that said "No One Cares." I asked her to tell me about her shirt and why she was wearing it. She told me she was having a bad day, her mom and dad were fight- ing, and she wasn't feeling good about herself. I invited her to join us for the next Girls Night In. stickers she handed out pasted on their school binders. e stickers read "Love Yourself " with little hearts. "I'm hoping to change their direction," says Mueller. "I don't want them to go into high school with this per- ception that they aren't good enough. I'm not trying to fix them; I just want them to believe in themselves." —Sherry Posnick-Goodwin 16

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