Middle Schools Girls: Character, Leadership, Service

February Blog 2018

I want to tell you a story about an “experimental project” that we implemented this month. The idea was “sparked” by two articles that I read several months ago noting that the suicide rate for girls has doubled since 2007 and that a national survey revealed that respondents believed that schools should be offering “leadership development” opportunities for all youth focusing on competencies such as self-motivation/discipline, adaptability/versatility, effective communication, and learning agility, multi-cultural awareness, and collaboration.

Following up on the idea of “leadership development” for all young students, I sought out efforts to develop leadership skills and talents of young women. There are two programs I want to briefly describe to you.

1. The Leader in Me is a program designed to teach students life skills such as leadership, responsibility, accountability, problem solving, adaptability, effective communication, and more. It is described as a whole-school transformation model and process…based on secular principles and practices of personal, interpersonal, and organizational effectiveness.

2. Then I came across a book titled, The O Factor, written by Alan Nelson, a graduate of USD-SOLES doctoral program in leadership. The book has a unique sub-title: “Identifying and Developing 5 to 25-Year-Olds Who Are Gifted In Organizational Leadership.”

He writes that the “O Factor” refers “to the unique ability possessed by a small minority to instinctively accomplish things by organizing others to work together for a common goal….By identifying people possessing the O Factor very young (between 5 and 18 years of age), we can intentionally develop them into superior social influences that are effective and ethical.” (pp. 12-13)

I was particularly interested in his chapter on the question: “Why are female ‘O Factors’ so important in this and the next century?” In the appendix, Nelson describes his “LEADER Incubator” program. www.KidLead.com

My experimental project plan started to “jell” when CJ Moloney (CERC staff member and instructor for our course “Character and Athletics”) returned from the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference and described it to me.

At the conference, Billie Jean King, Maria Sharapova, Aly Raisman, and other female athletes shared their stories, challenges, and goals for empowering women in sports. Julie Foudy, former soccer player, two-time Olympic gold medalist, ESPN analyst, and founder of a leadership academy for girls, was the emcee of the conference. After the conference, CJ told Julie about her role teaching the Center’s “Character and Athletics” course, and her volunteer work coaching Splash, a team of women basketball players who are 80 plus years of age. Julie arranged to have ESPN do a story on the team.

When CJ returned from the conference, she gave me a copy of Julie Foudy’s book, Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU. The book describes the “Five Rings of Empowerment”–Self, Team, School, Community, and Life.

Each of the book’s 12 chapters includes stories, experiences, and advice to young women (girls) from Julie and 11 prominent women from a variety of professions whom she interviewed. Julie addresses topics such as leadership, communication, responsibility, team-building, attitude and gratitude, with lessons and student activities.

I read the book twice–once for an overview, the second time to layout the experimental project idea using the content of the book. My plan was to have interested teachers/administrators select a group of about ten (10) female students from each of five middle schools, as well as one or two teachers who were willing to serve as project teachers. The project would run for about five months using Julie Foudy’s book and “character and leadership” resources from the Center.

My next step was to raise about $8,000 to implement this experimental project in each of five local middle schools. That didn’t happen. I did, however, raise enough money to try out the project in one middle school. The school: Monroe Clark Middle School, a 6-8 grade public middle school located in City Heights. The teachers: Janel Meehan, 7th grade ELA teacher, and Kelly Gelsomino, 6th grade Humanities teacher.

The program began on February 1st – “National Girls & Women in Sports Day.” Students, parents, and project teachers attended the USD vs. Gonzaga women’s basketball game. They met Julie Foudy and receive a signed copy of her book. They also met the players on the San Diego Splash senior women’s basketball team.

This month two meetings are planned with the “Girls Matter” group (the name the students picked for themselves) where they will be discussing and executing activities from the first two chapters of the book.

That’s my story. If you are interested, let me know, and I will keep you posted.

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D.
Character Education Resource Center, Director
University of San Diego
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 260-2250 Office

Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by CHANCE, nor does it happen by CIRCUMSTANCES. It happens by CHOICES.

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