Partnership aims to empower girls

A girl samples a fragrance as other students and two adults sit around a table.

On a recent Tuesday, a group of girls at Liberty Middle School sat at a table creating luxury scrubs and labels for their containers. They passed bottles of fragrances around and discussed the properties of each, which led to a greater discussion about morning and nighttime routines.

To a casual observer, this activity may have seemed to be a simple craft time, but it was much more.

The girls are part of LMS’ Girls Empowerment Group, an effort to help build the confidence of the students and empower them to succeed, and the activity was part of a module on self-care with Adrienne Jensen, executive director of EverGreen Meadow Academy, and EverGreen social worker Carmen Martinez.

Jensen encouraged the students to share what they were excited about over the past few weeks and what was coming up. One student shared she was happy about winning a softball game but was convinced the team was going to lose the next game.

Two adults sit at a table as one girl stands near leaning on the table and another girl walks by “But at least you won your last game, right?” Jensen said. The reassurance is an integral part of the group, which aims to support the mental health of middle schoolers.

“EverGreen Meadow reached out to local school districts in Sullivan County and offered services,” LMS School Counselor Michelle Behrman said. “They saw the need for mental health support and services in our county, and we jumped at the chance to work with them.”

The goal of the group, which began last year with six girls, is to teach communication skills, coping strategies and other skills needed to be a successful leader. The girls are invited to the group based on the recommendation of the guidance staff, social worker and psychologist.

The program fits in with the school’s mission to prepare students by promoting academic excellence, respectfulness, independence and responsibility and its vision to foster growth and potential in an accepting, diverse and enriching community.

“Through activities and discussions in the group, girls are encouraged to learn new things about one another, other people they meet and different cultures,” Behrman said. “They are also encouraged to use critical thinking skills to reason through situations. Girls are encouraged to work on gaining independence and how to be responsible.”

A tirl reaches for markers as a girl in the foreground works on a body scrubThroughout the current school year, there have been two groups of girls—fifth and sixth grade in one and seventh and eighth in the other—with about 18 students total taking part in the twice-a-week sessions.

Typically, the first weekly session focuses on one of the following subject areas: Relaxation, Grounding, Self Care, Distraction Skills, Creative Outlets, Movement Skills, Good Health Habits, Manners, Thinking Skills, Loneliness, Anger, Sadness/Grief, Body Image, Social Media, Anxiety, Fear (lack of safety) and Internet Safety.

During the next session that week, students participate in an activity that reinforces what they learned.

Seventh-grader Asia Hurley said the group has taught her to not immediately react to a situation.

“You should think for a second, and don’t go to the first thing that comes to your mind,” she said.

Eighth grader Alyssa Padilla agreed, adding she learned to focus on more positive things.

Fifth-grader Savannah Kandic said the activity days are her favorite because she likes spending time with the other students and doing the crafts with the group.

But there are messages in the activities, Jensen said.

“The activity days are creative and enjoyable and at first glance may seem like just play. Play is an evidence-based way for us to learn, and that is what happens here,” she said. “These activities always involve communication and collective interaction, discussing real-life situations and applying the skills learned.”

“Some of the activities help us really think about a situation and how we could have handled it better,” Asia said.

LMS hopes to increase the number of girls taking part in the 2024-25 school year, possibly having three groups: one for fifth graders, one for six and seventh, and one for eighth, because the transition years are tough, Behrman said.

“While EverGreen Meadow Services is available to other schools, the partnership between Liberty Middle School and EverGreen is a special one,” Jensen said. “(Liberty has) committed to expanding their program here at Liberty Middle School first and then to other schools as funding becomes available.”

The impact so far has been great.

“The girls at Liberty that have come through their Empowerment Group are phenomenal,” Jensen said. “They are bursting with potential and intelligence. They have been observative, receptive and kind. Each of them enters with different personalities and backgrounds that don’t necessarily blend together, but they have worked to find ways of interacting with each other in a supportive manner. This is more than so many of us adults have learned to do.”