Based on our many years of running programs and countless conversations with girls, parents, caregivers, and educators, we know that our work is impactful. Yet we’re always so deeply moved to hear how our programs and tools help people make positive change in their lives. We recently had an opportunity to chat with Jenn Wert, an educator, parent coach, and longtime participant in our Girl & Grown-Up workshops.
Tell us about your journey with Girls Leadership programs.
Years ago, when I was in the classroom teaching, everything I was doing and everything that mattered to me was rooted in social and emotional learning (SEL). SEL wasn’t even talked about explicitly back then but I was deeply focused on connection and communication. I eventually found SEL certifications and training as an educator, but as a parent, Girls Leadership was the first I had heard of in terms of programming that focused specifically on girls and SEL.
We started doing Girls Leadership’s Girl & Grown-Up workshops when my daughter — who just turned 10 — was 5 years old, and we have done it every single year since, even though some years have been repeat programming for us because of the school-year groupings. That’s how impactful I think the work is!
How has your daughter responded to programming over the years?
From the beginning, the program was very accessible to my daughter and she has loved every minute of it. She eats up anything that will give her more agency and allow her to use her voice more effectively. It also has given us a fun set of tools and exercises and ways to practice with role plays and new language.
The only resistance we’ve experienced has not been workshop participation but sometimes practicing — understandably because learning new things is exciting, but practicing is hard! It’s so interesting though, because sometimes she might resist practicing a role play but if I make it about me wanting to practice and gently insist, she joins me and then she is into it and I suddenly see her working through an issue in the moment that she then doesn’t need to necessarily address directly at school.
Where have you seen the impact of our programs play out in your daughter’s life?
My daughter has opinions and big feelings and wants to know how to be heard. What she has learned through Girls Leadership helps add tools to her toolbox. As a coach, when I talk to parents about Girls Leadership, sometimes they say that their kid is confident and in touch with feelings already so they aren’t sure the program will help them, but without fail, when they do the program they learn nuances that are really important. And they are taught a way to practice that they can apply to different conflicts, which is so useful. Plus, the parents learn just as much as the kiddos!
Why are Girls Leadership’s programs particularly important now?
I have always believed that these programs are incredibly important. But right now, what I’m seeing with clients and the world is that everyone could use extra support. The isolation of COVID has been a lot for girls and they are still re-entering life; for example, coming onto teams they don’t already know. The curriculum can help girls learn to advocate for themselves, and what I think is particularly useful is that parents learn important tools and can also look ahead at the next developmental stage since all of the workshops advance along with the girls as they age.
What is an invaluable tool or lesson that is shared through Girls Leadership’s programs that carries into everyday life?
Honestly, all of them. We refer to them all the time! But one thing that is so crucial is learning that all feelings are OK … the whole spectrum of feelings is important for kids of all ages, and adults, for that matter. It’s so important to learn how to support girls to become comfortable with uncomfortable feelings; that if they have the tools to be aware, acknowledge, and express feelings, they can move through them. But there’s a lot of work parents have to do. We can’t give our children what we don’t have. Parents need to practice these skills themselves, to really model for kids what we want them to do.
Has anything surprised you in your journey with Girls Leadership programs?
One thing that has been fascinating to witness is the comfort with which Girls Leadership girls connect. Since first grade — my daughter’s second year in the program — my daughter has gravitated towards other Girls Leadership girls on the playground; not in a clique-y way, but there is an appreciation for other girls who have the same language and understanding, who you know you can use your tools with. These girls understand boundaries and know they will be respected when they speak up. It’s incredibly powerful for a girl to recognize another girl’s “knowing” and feel connection and trust with someone who shares their values. This is how they learn to choose good, healthy relationships going forward.