Sexual harassment, body image, self esteem and peer pressure are not necessarily your run-of-the mill topics of dinner conversation in homes across America. Nor are they addressed in middle school classrooms along with history and English composition. Yet these and other issues such as substance abuse and school violence can pose serious dilemmas for girls and ultimately hurt their educational experience.
The Washington branches of the American Association of University Women and Business and Professional Women, Outreach Teen & Family Services, W&J College Office of Diversity Programming and Washington Hospital Teen Outreach are co-sponsoring this year’s Washington County Summit to tap girls for their ideas on ways to confront these and other challenges. The Summit gives girls a forum to discuss issues they have identified as important, to share common struggles and personal strategies for coping, and to suggest their own solutions for change.
All 6th grade girls in Washington County are invited to participate. There is no fee to participate.
Part of a national series of Sister-to-Sister Summits sponsored by AAUW, this overnight conference brings together girls of diverse backgrounds from all parts of Washington County to candidly discuss issues that they themselves have identified as critical. Breaking into small peer-facilitated groups, girls develop strategies to address their common concerns and then reconvene to consolidate their ideas into a unified platform for action. Discussions are based on the girls’ own responses to questions on the registration form and how those issues relate to decision making, goal setting, dealing with peer pressure,creating positive friendships and developing feelings of self-worth. Young women in 11th and 12th grades serve as peer facilitators, and are required to participate in four hours of intensive training prior to the
Summit. Adult women from the sponsoring organizations and partner organizations serve as chaperones during the event. Typically, a one-hour “Teen Esteem” program is offered for parents at the beginning of the evening or on a night prior to the event.
In addition to small group discussions, a variety of other activities will also address critical areas of concern. Instruction on safety and self-defense, “purposeful fun” team-building activities, and refreshment and ample sleep-time will round out the agenda. Previous participants said of their experience, “I know I have changed. I have learned so much and I can’t wait until next year,” and “Girls do have a voice and others do care about what they have to say.” Throughout the planning stages of the Summit, girls and what they have to say takes center stage. In 1991 AAUW released Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America, a nationwide survey revealing that in adolescence girls experience a dramatic drop in self-esteem and lose the strong, confident voices they once had.
By speaking out at the summit and creating a platform for action with their peers, girls can feel more empowered to deal with critical issues as they arise in their own lives. The AAUW Educational Foundation’s 1992 study, How Schools Shortchange Girls: The AAUW Report, synthesizing more than 1,300 studies on girls and education, identified a range of issues that are central to students’ lives and impact their learning but that schools touch on only briefly, if at all. Coined “the evaded curriculum,” these issues included teen pregnancy, substance abuse, depression and suicide.