The inaugural event gave third- through fifth-grade female students a chance to cut loose, get pampered and learn the importance of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect.
School Counselor Joy Sollie said she decided to organize the Girls Empowerment Night after teachers expressed concern for the direction some of their female students were heading at an early age.
“I had a third-grade teacher that said she was worried about several of the girls in her class,” Sollie said. “She felt like they were dressing inappropriately and they didn’t even realize that it wasn’t OK.”
It may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but young girls dressing provocatively can have many unintended consequences when they get older. The American Psychological Association has reported that sexualization of young girls is a growing concern that can do long-term damage.
Girls are exposed to so many unrealistic images of women — air-brushed models in magazines, scantly dressed celebrities on TV and reality shows glorifying plastic surgery in order to obtain true beauty. All these images send the wrong message to young girls.
“Moms and dads are working more and more and we decided we need to help them out and teach these girls that what they see in the fashion magazines isn’t reality,” Sollie said. “These girls at a very young age are worrying what they look like and devaluing themselves.”
Junaluska Elementary teachers had to find a fun and engaging way to instill some important lessons in these girls. The school partnered with local businesses and donors to put together the Girls Empowerment Night.
All third- through fifth-grade girls were invited to the free event and about 75 participated.
“They all got a girl power T-shirt and name tags with a different color group and there were pink decorations everywhere,” Sollie said.
The girls rotated around different stations in the school that focused on many different aspects of leading a happy and healthy life with different teachers or community leaders. They got to take a yoga class, learn about proper table manners and etiquette, get a manicure and get their hair styled by girls from Tuscola High School, have a dance party to burn off energy and more.
“The yoga taught them how to relax and center yourself — everything we did was about being healthy mentally and physically,” Sollie said. “Their favorite was the hair and nail session — they really enjoyed talking to the high school girls and getting to know them. They look up to them so much.”
Susanna Barbee — a mother of two boys at Junaluska — volunteered that night to go through the Dove Self-esteem Project with the girls. The program is meant to teach body confidence and raise self-esteem.
“During that session I had a question for them — ‘When you get to middle school, do you think your self-esteem increases or decreases?’ and they all raised their hand that it would be higher in middle school,” Barbee recalled. “They were very surprised when I told them that a girl’s self-esteem usually drops significantly in seventh grade. But hopefully knowing the statistics they won’t let it happen to them.”
Girls Empowerment Night also focused on creating camaraderie amongst the girls instead of competitiveness. At the end of the night, the girls all took permanent markers and wrote compliments on each other’s Girl Power shirts.
Lastly, the girls had to come up on the stage one at a time and say positive words about themselves. Sollie said it was a proud moment to see the girls have a better understanding of who they are and what makes them beautiful.
“Some girls that are usually so shy walked up there and said things like, ‘I am beautiful without makeup,’” Sollie said. “At the end of the night, we told them to bottle up this feeling of how awesome you are and take it with you.”
Even though the event is over, the message from Girls Empowerment Night is still resonating through the halls of Junaluska Elementary — the girls continue to wear their Girl Power shirts and continue to talk about all the fun they had.
“I liked how it taught us we’re a star and how nothing can stand in our way,” said fifth-grader Julia Ottie.
“I learned that you don’t let other people push you down or say things that aren’t true about you,” said fifth-grader Penelope McLelland.
Fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Mullins said one of her students even wrote a paper and titled it “Girl Power in the Revolution.” She has no doubt the event had a positive impact on the girls that will carry on throughout the rest of the year.
“I never had anything positive like that in school but this is something they will remember forever and hopefully the third-graders will get to do it three times before going to middle school,” she said. “I think when we do it next year all 110 girls will be there.”
Now teachers are planning an event for the boys — Band of Brothers Night. The boys sessions will include things like team building, good sportsmanship, wilderness survival, respect and a game of dodge ball to burn off some energy. Speakers will talk to the boys about sticking together, not fighting and how not to be a sore loser or sore winner when competing.