Final Advocacy Project Alicia Ray East Carolina University
According to the national report on self-esteem by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund (2008), self-esteem has become a crisis in the United States. Many girls feel like they do not measure up to others. These girls are three times more likely to engage in harmful or destructive behavior than girls with higher self-esteem. Our state, North Carolina, is among the highest in the percentage of teens who feel that they “aren’t good enough.” Seven of ten girls feel they are not good enough or do not measure up. Nearly half of our teen girls (44%) are engaging in negative activities, ranging from eating disorders, binge drinking, smoking, cutting, or bullying. The statistics show that girls are in need of positive role models in their daily lives. These role models need to help the teen girls find positive self-confidence and ways to affirm themselves constantly. That is why Candy Crockett (our school guidance counselor) and I created “Mission Beautiful”. This group was designed to help answer the question, “What can we do at school to help increase selfconfidence in girls?” Mission Beautiful started on January 31, 2011 and ran for 10 weeks. We have 41 girls in our fifth grade class and we split them into three groups. The girls were not always in the same group, as we did not want them to create a clique within their Mission Beautiful group, but to feel comfortable with all of the fifth grade girls. I created a schedule that not only allowed for flexibility in who was in the group, but also assured that the same girls were not always missing instructional time, specials, or recess. Teachers were able to switch their girls if they felt the need to remediate academically one-on-one, but every girl came to every week’s group, unless they were out sick.
Advocacy Project Our project was funded by Kelly Connor and Carrie Fleming with Horace Mann
Insurance Company. Candy and I actually ran the program from week to week. The initial plan was that each week, Candy and I would spend about 10-15 minutes with the girls watching a video or doing a quiz on Dove.com’s Girls Only section. Then we had planned for the final 10-15 minutes to be some kind of craft that the girls could take with them weekly. Our “little project” bloomed into so much more than that. We did watch the videos and did the quizzes on Dove.com together, but the groups became a safe haven for the girls. It was a place in which they could discuss their feelings and openly share their self-doubts without feeling constricted or persecuted. Candy and I watched as the girls transformed from unsure, meek wallflowers to expressive, proud young ladies. There are two weeks that really stood out to me. The first was the week the girls received their charm bracelets. We bought them all a cheap linked bracelet from Michaels and gave each girl 3 charms to begin with. The three charms were a glittery heart, a bell, and “circle of life” which portrayed words of encouragement. The bell was to signify their beauty, both inside and out. Every time they heard the bell ring, they were to remind themselves that they are beautiful. Their excitement was contagious and we heard bells ringing for nearly 6 weeks after that. Each week, they were given an assignment with the opportunity to add another charm to their bracelet. These ranged from writing in their journal to posting a positive note for all girls to see. The second week that really stands out in my mind is the week they were encouraged to step out of their comfort zone. Candy and I told them to think of something that was uncomfortable for them. For example, I have always been embarrassed about my knees. They are wide and my calves are very stout, especially for my smaller upper body.
I told the students about my extreme self-doubt when showing my knees. I have not worn a pair of shorts since I was pre-pubescent. Of course, I am going to lead by example, so I wore a skirt that showed my knees to work. The girls were so great assuring me that my legs were beautiful and they encouraged me to wear skirts, capris, and shorts more often. This led to girls wearing dresses to school, wearing their hair down if it was usually worn up, and wearing it up if it was usually worn down. The girls wore earrings and jewelry, and one girl, who is a major tom-boy, wore pink for the first time since she has been dressing herself. One of my sweet girls wore her hair in pig tails. One of the boys said something negative to her about it, which really hurt her feelings. She was going to take her hair down, but some of the other girls got wind of what had happened and actually went to the bathroom and put their own hair up in pigtails to support her. It was so amazing to see the self-confidence blossom in that little girl. Who knew pigtails would lead to empowering a young woman? The culminating event for the girls was to take a field trip to the local community college for a manicure or an up-do or shampoo and style for their hair. The girls did not stop smiling from the minute we walked in until they went home for the day. It was such a special experience for both the fifth grade girls, as well as the student cosmetologists who did their hair and manicures. Candy and I made sure that each girl was able to receive a make over. We realized that many Hispanic girls are unable to cut their hair before their quinceañera so a hair cut was not available to any of our girls. In fact, many of our Hispanic girls chose to have their nails done instead of their hair. Our one African American girl has braids in her hair and did not want them touched, so she also opted for a manicure. The cosmetology students were diverse as well. Our students had the privilege
Advocacy Project of working with White cosmetologists, Hispanic cosmetologists, African American cosmetologists, male cosmetologists, and even one cosmetologist who was deaf and had the aid of an interpreter. After the make over, the girls gathered for pizza and a guest speaker, who had overcome anorexia.
Mission Beautiful has made such an impact in our community that our Educational Foundation, an organization that raises money for our County School System, is looking to fund the program in all K-5 schools. The change in our girls has been a tremendous one. There are no girl fights or bullying amongst our fifth graders. The girls are a cohesive group who look after one another. In the hallways, I constantly hear “Oh, Ellie, you look beautiful,” or “Savannah, I love your shirt,” or “Hey, Taylor, your hair looks so different and I love it!” Children cannot truly love others until they love themselves. They cannot be a positive light in their community until they feel positive on the inside. That kind of light truly glows from the inside outward. Each and every girl, Hispanic, White, African American, rich, poor, from all backgrounds, made strides to becoming a better citizen by feeling better about themselves. This group crossed boundaries of race, religion, language, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Girls found common ground and were able to express it effectively between them and Candy and me. I feel that this project links wonderfully to S. Nieto’s (2010) theme four of a positive teacher-student relationship. Girls came to me with problems and we worked together to find solutions. The girls felt that we placed great value on them and their opinions, so they expressed themselves very well in the classroom. The confidence that was built in our small group was expressed outwardly in our academic classes. The other teachers started out disregarding the “girls’ group” as effective within the school day, but
Advocacy Project changed their minds upon hearing positive comments from parents, staff, and their students. A positive student-teacher relationship builds the foundation to multicultural education and a positive experience in school in which all can succeed.
It is my desire to see Mission Beautiful become county-wide next year. Candy and I will happily lead the way to ensure that each girl gets to experience this self-esteem group. We hope that one day it will cultivate into the middle schools and high schools, but until then, we hope our girls will go to the middle school next year believing they are truly beautiful, inside and out.
Article in Mount Airy News: http://mtairynews.com/view/full_story/12783174/article-Mission-Beautifulbuilds-self-confidence?instance=news_special_coverage_right_column
References Crockett, Candy. Personal Interview. Nieto, S. (2010). 7. The light in their eyes: creating multicultural learning communities (10th anniversary ed., p. 188). New York: Teachers College Press. “Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem”. (2008) Dove Self-Esteem Fund. “Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty”. Girls Only. http://www.dove.us/#/cfrb/girlsonly/. Wall, Morgan. (2011) "Mount Airy News - Mission Beautiful builds self confidence." Mount Airy News - Your source for local news, classifieds, business listings and events in Mount Airy, North Carolina. http://mtairynews.com/view/full_story/12783174/article-Mission-Beautiful- buildsself-confidence?instance=news_special_coverage_right.