Helping Girls “Rule Their Experiences”

It’s one of the most confusing times of life:  Middle School.  Junior High.

You know exactly what I mean.

Whatever walk you walked during that 5th to 8th grade year along with the friends you had.  Or thought you had. My journey was before Regina George graced the big screen, but the experience is universal… I truly believe.

Two stories stand out to me from that time period:  Witches and Booze.

All happened within those four years.  And I was a Chicken.  With a capital “C.”  Not fitting in meant not taking a swig of Rumple Minze or Peach Schnapps.  And I felt really sheepish about that.  I can remember the slumber party where it all went down for the first time.  Eight of us packed into a small living room with access (somehow) to a lower cabinet in the kitchen.  Is it crazy that I can remember one of my friends pulling it out from that cabinet below the microwave?  This was 8th grade.  “R” got out the goods with “A” and started taking just a sip.  I wouldn’t do it.  And I was so NOT COOL because I wouldn’t do it.

Rewind to 5th grade.  The Witch Debacle.  I walked into the bathroom at Johns Hill Magnet School in Decatur, Illinois and three of my girlfriends were staring in a mirror and reciting some chant.  I can’t remember but I feel like it was from the movie, Candyman.  The old oak doors on the stalls slyly swinging open and the ceilings that seemed like twenty feet tall were fresh with wet toilet paper wads that had been thrown up as high as they could go, the easy way to be a vandal by leaving the soggy ball marks.  I asked one question:

“What are you guys doing?”

The answer:

“We’re witches.  And you can’t be one.”

Do you know how hurt I was by that?  As dumb as that may seem, and long before I had any “Charmed” envy from the CW.

When I consider these two moments– they are so minute compared to what kids in these grades are dealing with today.

That’s why the ROX event that I was asked to attend last week really struck a chord with me.  ROX is a program for girls in 4th through 12th grades and it stands for Ruling Our eXperiences.  The fundraising event was hosted at a private home in Powell.  Women leaders from all over Columbus were asked to come to support this initiative that is helping middle school girls navigate their way through very tricky waters.

We were handed flip-flops as we came into the party– putting everyone attending automatically at ease from their 10 hour days in heels on a Thursday.  ROX  founder Lisa Hinkelman, who has a Ph.D in Counseling from Ohio State, told me the program is comprehensive for young women, focusing on these areas:

  • Relationships
  • Drops in self-esteem
  • Body image
  • Conflicts within relationships
  • Trouble with social media

“ROX started as my faculty research line at Ohio State in 2006.  It was a study that was approved through the Institutional Review Board there for five years.  So, it wasn’t just– Let’s put some things together and see if girls like it.  It was: let’s study and learn what actually works in shifting these areas in a girl’s life, what actually works in enhancing her self-esteem and confidence, what actually works in giving her enhanced communication skills.”

This didn’t just happen by Googling best practices, which can happen sometimes when educators try to go in and solve problems with a group of young women and don’t look at the whole picture.

Hinkleman went on to tell me that pre and post-test data show statistical shifts in how these girls are developing. And ROX doesn’t target just one population.  It’s not only for the impoverished, the quiet, the “mean girls”, or the girls of means.  It’s for every girl.

“We know that girls’ self-esteem is plummeting from elementary school to middle school, and then on into high school.  We know there is such a prevalence of unhealthy dating relationships.  And we know that girls are being restricted, in academics and career, because there’s expectations on what they’re supposed to be or supposed to look like or supposed to act like.”

This takes all of those areas in their lives– and addresses it through an holistic approach.

But beyond the flip-flops, the hors d’oeuvres, and familiar faces attending to hear the ROX message last week– Sidney is what really brought the message home for me.  Now in high school, we had an intimate conversation about what ROX has done for her:

There’s your evidence.  And schools want it, counselors want it.

But one of the barriers is funding.

“ROX is at a place right now where we can’t meet the demand for programming,” Hinkelman explained.

The program has now extended beyond Ohio into Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennyslvania.  If you watched the whole video you heard that it costs $75 to put a girl through the 20 week program.  It’s one hour a week, put on by a professional counselor.

That’s it.

It’s something feasible for each and every one of us who is reading this post and remembers how hard those formative years can be on a girl.

“We all go through these experiences that give us a shared bond.  And some of them are not so positive.  So if we look at how do we put girls on a different trajectory?  That’s what ROX is doing,”  Hinkleman passionately explained.

We’ve all been there.  Not knowing who we are.  Wondering what the world expects of us.

I know the girl in this picture. I remember what she was going through.


Here’s where you and I can help a girl in those shoes we know so well… here’s where we can donate.

This is what will make an impact and allow them to become women leaders of tomorrow.

I hope you’ll join me in encouraging them and letting them know that they can rule their own experiences.