By Phoebe Knight
Middle school is a time of big changes.
(Understatement of the century.)
It begins when kids leave behind the well-known halls of elementary for the unfamiliar territory of a new school. Before they’ve had adequate time to adjust, the awkward physical transition between childhood and adulthood rears its (often pimply) head. Social interactions suddenly become complex and difficult to navigate. To make matters worse, bullying is no longer contained to the schoolyard—it haunts students on social media as well.
For many girls, this time can be painful and overwhelming. On average, a girl’s self-esteem peaks at nine years old and goes down from there. Studies reveal that depression and thoughts of suicide often begin in middle school, and the consequences of low self-esteem extend beyond the school years into adulthood. Lack of confidence in the ability to succeed is a key factor in why more women do not strive for professional leadership roles—or jobs in STEM—despite being both competent and capable.
Girl Talk is an Atlanta-based international nonprofit organization that wants to turn this trend around. Their two-factor approach pairs girls in high school with middle school counterparts in a structured mentoring program that focuses on creating positive role models and strong leaders.
Founded in 2002 by Haley Kilpatrick, also the bestselling author of The Drama Years, Girl Talk serves more than 60,000 girls in North America and beyond. We caught up with her to learn more about the organization’s purpose.
How it Works
Supported by institutions as large as Comcast and Coca-Cola, Girl Talk is organized by “chapters” led by high school students. Becoming a chapter leader is free, and the process is simple, but it’s definitely a commitment.
Registering and maintaining a chapter requires at least one adult advisor and a female high school leader willing to commit to at least two hours per week for planning and mentoring sessions. Chapter leaders are expected to perform 10 hours of community service outside their duties with Girl Talk. Additionally, they must remain up to date on the provided educational resources and submit monthly updates to the organization.
Although the requirements are rigorous, there are benefits for both the leaders and participants. Leaders learn valuable organizational and management skills, build positive relationships and strengthen their personal networks. Plus, they have the opportunity to apply for college scholarships through Girl Talk.
The middle school girls thrive due to having someone in their lives who can relate to what they’re going through, and offer helpful, healthy advice when they need it most. To aid this process, the program equips mentors with resources to help guide them through discussions on issues like personal relationships, body image and scholastic success.
— Girl Talk (@GirlTalkInc) November 14, 2016
Over 90 percent of girls participating in the Girl Talk program claim it has improved their self-esteem and helped them build strong leadership skills. The testimonials page on the Girl Talk site is packed with endorsements from parents, students, teachers and others whose lives have been touched by the organization.
Kilpatrick gave us some insight about the organization’s current goals and plans for the future.
“We’ve invested in the growth of new features for the organization and building the quality of the program right now,” she said. “We have strategic goals, but the heart of the organization is focusing on one girl at a time and doing that to the best of our abilities.”
— Girl Talk (@GirlTalkInc) November 10, 2016
Among the features the organization wishes to add is an enhanced digital experience. “To stay relevant, we have to constantly evolve,” said Kilpatrick. Project goals include revamping the main website to be mobile friendly, launching a fully integrated social media strategy and maintaining a custom database to manage communication and leader resources.
Kilpatrick also addressed the possibility of expanding the organization’s reach beyond high school.
“We’ve learned that our girls want to continue to be a part of the Girl Talk leader network after they’ve graduated high school and moved on to college, and they crave for women in the workplace to share their wisdom and expertise,” she said. “We’ve found that women in the workplace would love to be able to help. They want to get involved but don’t know how or where to start. Our brand is evolving to serve our girls at different stages of life.”
— Girl Talk (@GirlTalkInc) December 1, 2016
How to Help
Girl Talk is a small organization with only a handful of dedicated team members. They rely on personal contributions and corporate partnerships to keep the doors open. Their funding goals for the year have not yet been met, and they are striving to reach their milestones before the end of the year.
Direct donations can be made on their site, and the organization maintains a wish list for specific needs. Volunteers are also needed for camps, advisory roles and duties in their main Atlanta office.
Beyond supporting Girl Talk, Kilpatrick encourages everyone to support and encourage the girls in their lives. “It’s all of our responsibilities to invest in this generation of girls and see that they have the confidence they need to develop into leaders.”
Images courtesy of Girl Talk.