Girl Talk connects girls, creates leadersDec 14, 2020 03:21PM ● By Jet Burnham
Teen girls connect virtually in bimonthly Girl Talk meetings. (Photo courtesy of Sally Emett.)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Between ages 8–14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30%.
Only 21% of all girls believe they have the qualities to be a good leader.
In an effort to reverse these discouraging trends noted on its website, the national organization Girl Talk offers a curriculum to increase the self-esteem, confidence and leadership skills of teen girls.
Mountain Heights Academy, an online school based in West Jordan, hosts one of only two Girl Talk chapters in the Salt Lake Area. Last year, 47 MHA students participated. This year, 73 girls—about 35% of the middle school’s female student body—have joined.
“I think they just need connection more than anything right now,” said Sally Emett, school counselor at Mountain Heights Academy. “Having somewhere where they can connect with other girls that are going through the same thing as them, that are dealing with the same issues, is really helpful.”
Girl Talk meetings are held twice a month. In previous years, there were in-person activities and service projects. This year, meetings are held virtually and girls keep in touch through group chats.
What makes Girl Talk unique is that the meetings are led by teenaged leaders. These older girls, who can relate to the issues the younger girls are facing, give advice about friendship, stress management, body image and self-care.
Some of the student leaders were participants before—the MHA club is in its third year—and are now leaders in the club. The eight high school students running the program this year were nominated by faculty members and had expressed an interest in mentoring younger girls. The girls use their own experiences and resources from the national Girl Talk curriculum to create presentations about gratitude, growth mindset, perseverance, goals and motivation.
“It's a little bit intimidating to go online and present a lesson that you put together to a big group of middle school girls, and to involve them and ask them questions and have them participate and deal with the technology and all of that,” Emett said. “It's a good experience for them, and it's really fun to see what they come up with and what they're getting out of it.”
Emily Andersen, principal of Mountain Heights Academy’s middle school, loves that the club benefits all the girls.
“Not only is it benefiting those younger students, but it's also really allowing those older students to build their leadership skills too,” Andersen said. “It's just twofold, which is fantastic.”
Last year, she worked with one of the group leaders who was intimidated by the idea of teaching a lesson.
“She was a little bit scared,” Andersen said. “And then she noticed that the girls were all commenting and really supporting her.” Andersen said the confidence this young woman gained from her experience in Girl Talk helped her later on as she participated in a National History Day activity, which involved an interview and presentation, and as she moved on to college.
“I saw a lot of growth in her,” Andersen said. “I think it was a lot of things, but I definitely would attribute the Girl Talk experience to her ability to start learning how to be a leader and how to present herself well.”
These are skills that are important, especially for students who enroll at Mountain Heights Academy, Andersen said.
“We don't always attract people that are wanting to get on stage,” she said. “Sometimes we have kids that might be a little more shy, and this might be a good fit for them. And so, of course, we are always looking for ways to build leadership capacity.”
Andersen said the outlet the club provides girls is even more important this year. With so much happening in the world, feelings of confusion and worry can impact students’ ability to do well academically.
“They're struggling with ways to properly discuss big adult items that they're seeing in the world: a pandemic, a contentious society over an election and over belief systems,” she said. “When they're able to be together and feel safe and have some of these conversations, it's such a fantastic outlet for them.”