Body image. Conformity. Sexual harassment. Bullying. These are just a few of the issues facing today's teens, especially girls, according to Eric Crabtree-Nelson, assistant director of Response, part of Jewish Child & Family Services.
"There was an acknowledgement that girls were really struggling with some complex issues-self-esteem, body image, lots of peer pressure to conform, lots of pressure to have a certain appearance and lots of negative and conflicting messages overall," he said. "Administrators were seeing a lot of negative behavior from girls toward their peers."
Response and a variety of individuals and organizations collaborated to create Girls Speak Up, a program that provides middle and high school-aged girls in the Chicago Jewish day school community with skills to negotiate the emotional and social demands of adolescence. Through the program, girls learn to communicate effectively with others, assume responsibility for their actions and reduce stress in their daily lives.
In 2011, Response facilitated two Girls Speak Up groups reaching a total 18 girls at Hillel Torah, three groups reaching a total 38 girls at Solomon Schechter, and two groups reaching 18 girls at Hannah Sacks Bais Yaakov High School. Currently, three groups are running: two at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School that involve a total 25 eighth grade girls, and one at Chicago Jewish Day School that involves three sixth-grade girls. During the program, small groups of eight to 12 girls work together over a six-week period, experiencing art, discussion, multimedia presentations, and other activities that encourage them to support each other and deal appropriately with the challenges they face daily.
"The hope is that these girls not only enhance their own personal resiliency skills, but that they also become leaders within their schools-serving as role models for their peers," said Shari Slavin, Jewish Women's Foundation trustee and chair of the Foundation's Education and Leadership for Women and Girls Grant Subcommittee.
Jewish Women's Foundation was instrumental in funding the initial two years of the program when Girls Speak Up was administered by Ida Crown Jewish Academy and staffed by Response clinicians, then provided $15,948 toward the program when Response took it over in 2010, and this past December, granted an additional $14,900 for 2012.
Response tailors the curriculum to meet the needs of the girls and those of individual schools, Crabtree-Nelson said. "We really span the gamut from the very conservative institutions to the more liberal day schools. The curriculum is very adaptable to different settings."
During the time their daughters participate in Girls Speak Up, parents receive information about each week's theme to provide discussion points at home. Some schools provide parent night presentations during which parents and daughters participate in an activity.
Girls Speak Up has had a highly positive response. One outcome was the need for a boys' companion curriculum, which was created last summer and has already been implemented. "This has really allowed us to address a wider range of issues," Crabtree-Nelson said.
Response facilitated two Boys Speak Up groups with a total of 38 participants at Solomon Schechter and currently runs one sixth-grade boys' group at Chicago Jewish Day School. Educating boys is a vital component that contributes to developing a strong generation of Jewish young men, and changing the perception of and increasing respect toward girls and women in our culture. Although the boys' program was unfunded, Response felt it was important to provide this service in conjunction with the Girl Speak Up curriculum.
Christine Sierocki Lupella is senior marketing communications manager for the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
For information on Response and Girls Speak Up, call Eric Crabtree-Nelson at (224) 625-2901 or visit http://www.responsecenter.org.
Jewish Women's Foundation of Chicago: Hear Our Voices is an independent project of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.Response is a program of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago administered by Jewish Child & Family Services.