For 12 girls at Grandville Middle School, finding their place in the world started with a sense of fearlessness.
The FearlesslyGirl after-school program focuses on girl power and discouraging bullying by bringing eighth-grade girls together to talk about issues they are facing. Led by teachers Lisa Figurski, Ann Kozak and Abby Smith, the program came to West Michigan after an upsetting observation.
“We were noticing the girl world up close,” Smith said. “We saw low self-esteem, a desire for perfection and girls not being able to cope when perfection didn’t happen.”
After discovering the FearlesslyGirl program and receiving grant funding for the curriculum from the Grandville Education Foundation, the three teachers focused on creating a friendly and inviting environment for girls in their school.
“There was a need for a place for girls to realize that it’s good to be a girl,” Figurski said. “It’s all about becoming a fearless girl and, in turn, making a better, kinder world.”
In addition to the Grandville chapter, there are 197 chapters running in 27 states, seven provinces and seven countries around the world.
Teanna Vantuinen joined the program to learn how to handle difficult situations as a young woman.
“There are so many stereotypes about what girls have to be and roles that girls are supposed to fill,” Teanna said. “The group teaches you that you don’t have to fit in a stereotype, that you can go out and do other things. You’re more than your stereotype.”
A Safe Place to Share
Since the group was a safe place, it was easier to hold honest conversations about difficult topics, Teanna said. At the beginning of the 10-week program, students were asked to make a list of the values that were important to maintain throughout the program, including the rule that privacy was key.
“You don’t really know the girls that well in the beginning, but then you get to know them and you’ll see them in the hallways and they’re all friends to you,” Teanna said. “We had the chance to learn more about people and their personalities than ever before because everyone knew they were welcome.”
Though Olivia Hall came to the group ready to learn, she was surprised by how much she could apply outside of the classroom.
“It was a good break from in class learning, even though we’re still learning here,” Olivia said.
“We had homework but it didn’t feel like it. It was homework that you wanted to do.”
Student participants were asked to reflect on their own lives through creative projects including journaling, arts and crafts and role-playing.
For Calista Burke, the program could not have come at a better time.
“I walked into the classroom and we were talking about how to handle stress, and that day I had a lot of stress I didn’t know how to handle,” she said. “It was perfect.”
The Next Level
The FearlesslyGirl curriculum has an additional program for high school students that Calista, Olivia and Teanna plan to pursue as they leave middle school. Hoping to gather a team of students and teachers, the girls hope to be able to apply for additional grant funding.
“We’re all imperfect but we’re all still important,” Calista said. “That’s the biggest things that I’ll take to high school and college and throughout the rest of my life — the fact that we’re enough.”
Figurski, Kozak and Smith plan to apply for grant support in the fall to continue the program at the middle school.
“This is something that we really had a lot of fun with and, now that we know how it works, we hope to have some more students involved as well,” Kozak said. “We’re excited to see what we can do.”