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Program aims to help teen girls build confidence


Hillary Shumate, Glen Ellyn middle school teacher (Photo provided)

With the likes of Snooki and Kim Kardashian on her middle school students’ radar, Hillary Shumate said she worries about the images of women that girls in her language arts classes at Hadley Junior High School are watching.

“I’ve just noticed that they maybe don’t have the confidence that I hoped they would have,” said Shumate, a teacher for 10 years at the Glen Ellyn school. “Just being more confident and their abilities to speak up and feel proud of themselves.”

In an effort to inspire self-esteem in the girls, Shumate and the school’s Parent Teacher Association are working together to host Hadley’s first ever POW! Or Powerful Outstanding Women assembly, a half-day of programs aimed at “connecting girls with their inner power.”

Scheduled on a Saturday and voluntary for students in sixth to eighth grades and their moms, aunts or grandmas, the programs include break-out sessions like yoga, self defense, financial planning, art and journaling, healthy relationships and nutrition. A staff member of the Illinois Attorney General’s office is expected to come and discuss cyber bullying.

“This is just a chance to celebrate what you have, what you’re capable of doing,” Shumate said.

The middle school years are a “critical time for girls to have a girls-only support system where they can talk about issues honestly,” said Girls Inc. President and CEO Judy Vredenburgh. Girls Inc. is a national support program for young women.

In middle school, girls are “navigating transitions to middle school and high school. Their bodies are changing. Their participation in sports and science and math decreases, and they risk losing out on benefits that will help them in school, college, and career,” Vredenburgh said in an email.

Hadley’s Parent Teacher Association is footing the bill for the costs associated with some of the speakers for the event, said Shumate.

PTA President Beth Fawcett, whose 14-year-old daughter is an eighth-grader, said it’s been easy to gain enthusiasm for the event from PTA committee members.

“We really loved the idea of empowering girls at this age,” Fawcett said. “Anything that gives them hints or tools to work with is great. I think they just need a really good solid foundation.”

And what about the boys? Shumate said there have been discussions for programs for them on healthy relationships.

“We saw a deeper need to reach the girls first,” Shumate said.

All girls who are in sixth through eighth grade at Hadley are encouraged to attend with their moms or another woman in their lives. POW! is scheduled for 8 a.m. to noon April 14 at the school, 240 Hawthorne Boulevard in Glen Ellyn.

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