WOOD RIVER JCT. — Concerned that younger girls at Chariho Middle School were lacking in self-confidence and collaborative skills, three high school seniors have started the district’s first Girls’ Leadership Club.

With support from Jill Burke, who chairs the English department, seniors Elizabeth LaCroix and Sierra Dube, of Richmond, and Cassidy Carter, of Charlestown, are helping the younger girls develop leadership and teamwork skills. The Chariho School Committee approved the formation of the club at its Feb. 26 meeting.

LaCroix said the idea was born when the three students entered the high school.

“We actually had this idea our freshman year. We thought it would be a really great idea if we had a program like this but we never acted on it until we saw an opportunity last year and we decided that we really wanted to do this together,” she said. 

Carter added, “We had a discussion about middle school and how we could possibly help out. We noticed that a lot of girls, we felt like they didn’t have a foundation to be more cooperative with each other instead of taking more negative pathways.”

Girls entering middle school often experience a drop in self-confidence. In an article titled “Middle School Malaise,” the American Psychological Society describes the transition from elementary to middle school as a difficult time for many younger teenagers.

It's a time of major change for young adolescents. “Most are in the throes of puberty; they're becoming more self-aware and self-conscious, and their thinking is growing more critical and more complex," the society said. "At the same time, adolescents are often ‘in a slump’ when it comes to academic motivation and performance.”

LaCroix said she felt it was particularly important to help middle school girls at a time when many experience insecurities in a new school environment.

“Throughout their lives, girls have different experiences and there’s different events throughout their lives that will affect their confidence and that drop in confidence is really what needs to change at that age,” LaCroix said. “We really want to be able to bring out that side of them that shows how confident they are and how much they’re capable of doing.”

The club is planning two workshops, in April and May, for eighth-grade girls.

“I think it would be more difficult to be able to meet with them because of time and often, for younger kids, it’s harder to stay after school,” Dube explained. “We think that the time we have with them in the workshops will be a good start to building the foundation of introducing them to leadership skills that they can work on and just putting the ideas out there in order to help build up their confidence and leadership and to have a greater voice in the classroom.”

The first workshop, Carter said, will include several activities including a lip-sync battle in which the girls will work in pairs. The second will focus on collaborative problem-solving.

“The second day, we want to do a simulation,” she said. “We’re going to give them a problem and they have to work together to try and solve it.”

LaCroix added, “We’re trying to underline the skills, courage, collaboration and cooperation in order to bring out the group as whole  and bring out the leaders within it."

Burke said she welcomed the opportunity to be the adult supervisor of the club.

“I really got to watch these three young ladies grow, and so when they came to me and asked me if I wold be willing to volunteer as an adviser, I jumped at the chance, quite frankly, because I’m really getting a chance to see them as they exit and go on to better things,” she said. "It’s a great opportunity for me to be a part of that, but also to watch them as they model for upcoming students who will hopefully take this role on as coordinators of this program and keep it going for future years.”

Chariho Assistant Principal Andrea Spas also welcomed the Girls’ Leadership Club, which has been dubbed “GRL.”

“I am incredibly proud of the initiative of Elizabeth, Cassidy and Sierra to bring a first-of-its kind girls’ leadership program to the campus,” she said. “Their goals of connecting middle school girls to leadership skills and strategies are to be commended. Elizabeth, Cassidy and Sierra understand the value that leadership roles play in shaping strength and character and intend to spread this awareness to female students at our middle school."

LaCroix, who co-chairs the Chariho Student Advisory Board, said she had been a quiet student until she had an opportunity to assert herself.

“I really found my confidence when I was given an opportunity and we’ve all been given opportunities for leadership, which have allowed us to expand from our comfort zones and gain that confidence that we need to become leaders, which is what we want to do for the eighth-grade girls,” she said.

Sports, Dube added, also provide opportunities for middle school girls.

“Sports can be a good place to build leadership, because if you are made captain, then you have that role that you are meant to be an example for the team,” she said. “But just being an older person on a team is a role of leadership also … That’s a good place for girls to grow their leadership as examples for the younger girls, especially in middle school.”

Burke agreed that sports offered leadership opportunities for girls, but she noted that not all girls participate in sports.

“Not everybody has an opportunity to play a sport or maybe doesn’t have the interest,” she said. “The great thing about this organization is it’s not led by adults. It’s led by students who have gone through the same experiences and are now going off to lead successful lives. So I think not necessarily the activities are the most  important. It’s that mentorship of seeing successful young women who are about to become adults who are going back and giving back to the middle school students.”


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