Submitted by: Kailyn Clarke
Have you ever wanted to make a difference in someone’s life? And if so, how will that be achieved? These questions are things that can cross anyone’s mind. At Ashland University, there are plenty of opportunities for students to get involved and make an impact on someone’s life. One of those groups in particular is called 1Girl.
This organization, brought to AU in 2016, focuses around empowering middle school girls to develop skills that they will use for their future, including public speaking, creative problem solving, critical thinking, goal setting and conflict resolution.
Each semester, members of AU’s 1Girl chapter get a chance to go into the classroom with Ashland Middle School students and teach the curriculum in hopes that the girls finish the program in a much better place than they were at the beginning. Middle school is an age where kids can be at their most vulnerable, so 1Girl is there to serve as a beacon to assist these girls and demonstrate how to harness some of these different interpersonal skills.
Senior Kailyn Clarke, who has been a part of 1Girl since her freshman year, recognizes the place where some middle school girls are at that point in their lives and how confusing of a time it may be.
“Knowing that they have someone there to talk to and someone to listen to them and advocate for them is something that I always want them to learn and accept,” she said. “It’s a hard time for middle school girls when you feel like you have no one. Just being there for them and knowing that they have someone means more than the world to me.”
While the main objective in this organization is the teaching done in the classroom, there are only three students per semester who become the ‘facilitators’ for the girls. Everyone else in the organization assists in the planning, but they don’t personally get to have a role in the classroom. To make up for this, they have developed a sort of pen pal system between the college girls and the middle school girls so everyone has some form of personal connection to each other.
After weeks of teaching the curriculum, many 1Girl members have found that through teaching the middle schoolers about things like public speaking and problem solving, they themselves are soaking in that information and applying it to their own lives.
“Through teaching the girls all of those things I was able to learn to have more confidence in myself and better my public speaking and critical thinking,” said Katherine Miller, AU grad and former 1Girl member. “I learned all of that for myself while also teaching them and that was something that’s not exactly the goal of the organization but it just organically happens.”
The goal by the end of each semester is to have each girl walking away feeling like they learned something and are more comfortable with the skills than they were at the start.
“I’ve really learned the impact that one person can have and the impact of my voice,” said 1Girl member Erin Groves. “On top of that, the impact of helping another girl find her voice whether it’s one of our club members or one of our girls in the classroom. Just being able to use your voice and amplify it.”
Unfortunately, the restrictions with COVID have prevented the organization from going into the classroom ever since last Spring, but once they are able to, they hope to pick things up and get back to business as usual.
It’s clear to see how much being in the classroom means to both the middle school girls as well as the college students. Clarke reflected on what she has cherished most about being a part of 1Girl.
“My favorite part is the last day of when we’re teaching the curriculum,” she said. We’ve been in the classroom all eight weeks seeing these girls, and the last lesson is set up to where they reflect on how they acted and how they perceived themselves before the program versus how they perceive themselves now. Watching them realize the growth they made in eight weeks, that’s my favorite part. They get a big old smile on their face and are so proud of themselves. It’s amazing.”
One of the statements that 1Girl operates on is that ‘it’s about planting seeds of empowerment, one girl at a time.’ Through the work done by AU’s 1Girl members, they are able to walk away knowing that they made a positive change for those girls in the classroom.
“Just a few weeks in the classroom with those girls can make a difference,” Miller said. “It’s really gratifying to see that it works and that it does make a difference.”