BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Feeling confident isn’t always easy, but for adolescent girls it can be especially challenging.
Gateway Middle School counselor Brooke Potts said that confidence among girls is shown to decline sharply between the fifth and ninth grades. In addition, data from Ruling Our Experiences, or ROX, a multidisciplinary research and training institute for girls, also indicates that one in three are afraid to be a leader because they don’t want to appear to be bossy. Additionally, one in three with a GPA of 4.0 or above still believe that they are not smart enough for their dream career.
Last fall, Potts became a trained ROX facilitator, which enabled her to implement a program to help girls at Gateway successfully navigate their negative feelings. The 20-week, evidence-based curriculum was developed using data from the survey results of 11,000 adolescent girls across the country.
“As a school counselor, I’ve always enjoyed running counseling groups for girls, since middle school is such a difficult time for girls especially,” said Potts. “I was so excited to learn about ROX, because it’s the first evidence-based curriculum that’s proven to build confidence in girls.”
A total of 27 Gateway students signed up for the ROX program. Among the girls, 12 are in the sixth grade and 15 are in the eighth grade. Meetings took place once per week during the school day but because of the school shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Potts is finishing the curriculum online using Zoom meetings.
“It’s so great. I have watched the girls really grow and become confident. It’s really been a really neat program for them,” she said.
The curriculum varies with discussions on how to deal with drama, how to handle conflict and how specific communication tools can be used in a variety of situations. Careers and leadership are discussed as well as beauty and body image, and self-defense techniques are also taught.
“It’s really more for them to have the confidence to know that if they are in a terrible situation, they can defend themselves and get out of it,” Potts said.
As the program progresses, students possess a greater acceptance for who they are despite the messages and images they are confronted with regularly on social media.
“They can more easily grasp the idea, ‘I am beautiful for who I am and the body I was born with,’” said Potts. “I also showed videos about the amount of editing and makeup and hair that goes into those images – so they understand that those are not even real images.”
Director of ROX Curriculum and Educational Programs Rachel Zufall said that because adolescent girls place a high importance on their connections with others, the pressure to compare themselves to others becomes heightened during adolescence.
“We know that girls are distinctly more vulnerable to really feeling that pressure. If they are not taught the skills to navigate that pressure, then we see them fall into a lot of unhealthy behaviors,” Zufall said.
The ROX program also teaches young girls how to identify and cultivate strong support systems.
“Honestly, some of it is just bringing them together and giving them a safe, judgement-free space to be exactly who they are,” said Zufall. “ROX is meant for all girls because we know that no matter what situation they are in, the common experience of being a girl is what brings them to the space, and no girl is immune to adolescence or to puberty and all of the developmental things that happen.”
Zufall grew up in Maumee and is a 1996 graduate of MHS.
“It’s been really heartwarming to me to know that my middle school has ROX going on in it – that’s something special to me, personally,” she said.
She attended The Ohio State University for both undergraduate and graduate degrees and was among the first to pilot the ROX program in a school where she worked as a counselor. For the past two years, she has worked full time at ROX. The program is currently implemented in 350 elementary, middle and high schools throughout 17 states.
It cost $75.00 per student to implement the ROX program at Gateway and was paid for using both district and state funds. With cuts to the budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Potts is not sure if the funding will be available to keep the program going next year, but she is hopeful it will.
For eighth-grader Tori Mena, taking part in ROX has been a life-changing experience.
“I enjoyed it very much. It helped me a lot, actually. I learned how to be a better me and it feels really nice to be myself and feel comfortable in my own body,” Tori said.
Prior to going through ROX, Tori said she felt insecure, especially around strangers, when feelings of doubt often overwhelmed her.
“After I joined ROX, I met a whole bunch of new people who were really nice and helped me through a lot, and now I feel like I can be myself and who I am is amazing. I should be happy with myself,” she said.