Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 7, 2016

After-school program empowers girls

Nov 17, 2016

WAVERLY (AP) — Determining what’s “real” can be difficult, especially when viewed through a TV screen.

But a small group of girls at Margarita Carey Elementary School recently had the curtain pulled back. The first- and second-graders watched a brief video during an after-school program last week showing a model going through a physical transformation.

“What did you guys just watch, what did you see? Did she look the same in the beginning as she did in the end?” asked Olivia Tangren, a Wartburg College sophomore.

The four girls talked about the woman getting her hair curled and makeup put on her face. Tangren and Gabrielle Calease Fox, a Wartburg senior, affirmed their answers. “They made her face look totally different than it did in real life,” Tangren added.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier  reports that the activity on body image and the media was part of IMpower, a 45-minute empowerment program for girls that meets weekly at the school.

When the topic changed to being safe online, first-grader Amalia Djoumessi suggested they should avoid “typing addresses in” while using the internet. “Because bad guys might come and get you,” added first-grader Sydni Heims. Lauren Dohnen said they should turn off the computer over any safety concerns while Millie Helgevold would ask her parents. Both girls are in second grade.

Another pair of Wartburg students led a third- and fourth-grade group at Carey Elementary. Elementary schools in Shell Rock and the Sumner-Fredricksburg and Charles City school districts also hosted the program this fall with the help of 15 female Wartburg students who serve as “navigators.” It enrolled 100 first- through fourth-grade girls, 60 of them in Charles City.

IMpower was created by Wartburg assistant professor of social work Jenna Haglund, in partnership with Cedar Valley Friends of the Family, which provides support and housing assistance for families affected by domestic violence. She began working on the idea after looking for a program her 8-year-old daughter could join.

“The programs that work more on respect or empowerment or anti-bullying don’t start until around middle school, or 12 years old,” she noted, and are more reactive because girls of that age are starting to bully, act out sexually and exhibit eating disorders. “So, my attitude is, ‘Why can’t we be more proactive?’”

With funding from Wartburg’s Slife Institute for Social Work Consultation, Research & Training, a workshop was held last spring bringing together school counselors and community leaders to develop the vision and mission for the program. The curriculum includes three six-week sessions spread throughout the school year. Topics addressed this fall in the program ranged from helping the girls explore who they are to healthy ways of expressing their emotions.

A focus on empowerment “is different from anti-bullying in that we take more from a mentor-type” approach with help of the navigators, Haglund said. “Having that relationship with an older girl really allowed for a younger girl to develop that higher sense of self-esteem as you’re then working through a curriculum.”

Nurturing the students they work with is essential to the program, said Tangren. “The girls need to know they’re important and that their feelings matter.”

Haglund is already thinking about creating a similar program focused on boys. In the meantime, the girls will take a survey about the program and she is working with a research class at Wartburg to make it more “evidenced-based,” which is often required for funding purposes.

Ultimately, Haglund hopes “to put this in more schools, to show this is what’s working and this is why it’s working.”

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