What is Smart Girls?
Smart Girls is an abstinence-based educational and support group offered to all middle and high schools in the Hall County and Gainesville City school systems. These groups meet weekly during the school day on school premises serving seven to ten girls at a time. Weekly sessions include self-esteem building, abstinence education, healthy decision-making, relationship skills, and sexually transmitted disease information. We also focus on developing character skills and helping teen participants recognize how their choices can determine their future. Through these sessions, Smart Girls provides young women the skills needed to overcome negative peer pressure, the tools to make healthy life choices, and the esteem to view their future potential accurately. The participants are required to obtain parental permission prior to participating in the program.
Story by Heather Weaver, our Smart Girls Educator
We know that numbers, statistics and data do not tell the whole story of these girls. Below is the story of one freshman who is in her first year of Smart Girls.
She came in the first day and was hesitant to even tell me her name. I knew that she was living with her parents but that they are both mostly absent in her life – they do not support her and she is unable to talk to them about issues in school and in her relationships. She is in an extremely unhealthy relationship with a boy much older than she. Eventually, and after listening quietly and without any participation for a few weeks, she said, “I think I need to hear this.” She now participates in discussions and is working on setting boundaries with her boyfriend. She has stated she thinks she needs to break up with him and is feeling stronger and like, with the support of this group, she will be able to do this. She has made great progress in other areas as well – her anger management has improved, as have her grades. For a 14-year old to be so overwhelmed by her circumstances is sad at best and downright risky at worst.
Smart Girls – The Full Picture
Smart Girls focuses on future goal planning, social skills education, and decision-making as well as building a healthy sense of personal responsibility. Smart Girls provides guidance and support for any young woman who wants to learn more about life choices and character building or specific students who are recommended by teachers and/or counselors. We communicate the expectation that our group participants remain pregnancy free throughout their time in Smart Girls and that they work toward graduation without dropping out. The goal of Smart Girls is to provide them with the knowledge and awareness needed to cause a change in attitude and a change in practiced or intended behavior. At the conclusion of the program the participants will want to make healthy decisions about sexual activity and dating relationships. It is a Smart Girls objective that the students will feel empowered to avoid unhealthy, risky behaviors. With increased awareness, they will want to avoid the consequences of teen sexual activity. In addition, the ability to set goals for themselves and their future will be aided by higher self-esteem and self-confidence.
We have seen the impact of our programs on graduation rates of our participants – often it is 20 points or more higher than the local average graduation rate.
When we give these students expectations, they typically try to rise to a higher standard than what they thought they could achieve. We incorporate that same standard into our Smart Girls groups and let the participants know in the beginning what our expectations are for them. As we meet and talk about the importance of school and their future, our expectations are for their attendance to be on track for each school year, for their behavior incidences to decrease from the previous school year, and for their grades to be improving; we also expect that they remain free of pregnancy while in high school.
Additionally, we recognize the importance of participants interacting with a group and an adult role model. Building these connections will influence their decisions in a positive way. Students will not only increase their knowledge of accurate information about their own health and sexuality, but also will solidify this understanding through peer and mentor bonds. The relationships they develop also provide them with accountability about their choices. We aim to help them begin building a foundation upon which they can thrive. The combination of facts and emotional support assists the participants in making smart choices about their future.
Center Point desires to make a lasting impact on the youth of Hall County. We have seen many of the girls we serve choose a healthier and more productive future as we walk their high school journey with them. We talk with them about the expectations we have for them and that our standards for them are high because we believe they can rise to meet those standards regardless of the obstacles in their way. Many of them have huge obstacles to overcome and we have become, for some of them, an avenue to see their way over those barriers. We are working with those students who are very much at risk to engage in all types of risky behaviors (i.e. early sexual involvement, drugs, alcohol, illegal activity). When we guide them to think about building a foundation of character and give them building blocks of knowing who they are and what they are able to accomplish, then they will hopefully make choices to avoid all risky behaviors.
For the upcoming school year, Center Point will continue evaluating the participants’ school progress. We will track our students during their time in group whether it be for one school year or multiple years. We will track whether or not any of the participants become pregnant during high school and if they are working toward graduation based on their attendance at school and their class performance(i.e. grades and school behavior) without dropping out. We will obtain this information from school counselors and graduation coaches.
Our students are very open with our facilitators about their choices and their hope to prevent making certain mistakes. We attempt to give them knowledge, goals, and hope of what their choices will lead to in their lives. Again, we are targeting those students who truly have no other outlets or support to help them make healthy decisions; therefore we are excited when we see progress and offer support and encouragement to improve when we hear about mistakes.