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Chick Chat: A Club for Girls, by April Love Llibre

Middle school girls learn how to celebrate their differences and who they are.

Walk into any sixth grade classroom and you'll find outspoken young girls going head-to-head with anybody who is willing to listen – even in a science or math class with boys. But, follow those same girls for two years, into eighth grade, and you'll find they've become different people. They've discovered things such as boys, hormones, peer pressure, teen magazines, supermodels, eating disorders, sexuality – and they've been dramatically changed by all those things.

An exciting alternative.
The beginning of adolescence is a frightening time in girls' lives. It's also a perfect time to reach out to these girls and nurture the confidence that allowed them to speak out as 10- and 11-year-olds. After reading Mary Pipher's book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (Ballantine, 1994), I began searching for a way to do just that for my middle school girls. My ideas coalesced when the middle school principals in my district began promoting the idea of a monthly club day during which students would be given the opportunity to join teacher-sponsored clubs. As sponsors, we were encouraged to come up with ventures that would extend student learning and provide an advisement opportunity. For me, establishing a girls' club that I called "Chick Chat" was an exciting alternative to traditional club ideas we passed around in team meetings. My vision was of a group that would foster feelings of support and camaraderie among sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls.

Setting up Chick Chat was very simple. I did a little bit of PR during the week prior to our club sign up day – a poster in each hallway, advertising the club as a place to "...celebrate who we are as girls because we are unique. Make new friends, investigate your possibilities, find out what makes you an original." The first meeting would be very important, because it would give the group direction. I didn't want Chick Chat to be negative in our approach to gender differences – this wasn't going to be the "She-Woman-Man-Hater Club." Instead of perpetuating divisions, I hoped we'd celebrate differences.

"Just" a girl.
The first meeting of Chick Chat opened with a song by the music group No Doubt. "Just a Girl" (Tragic Kingdom, Interscope Records, 1995) played as the girls wandered into my classroom, a little uncertain of what to expect. The band's singer, Gwen Stefani, belted out her commentary on our society's views of women and girls: "What I've succumbed to is making me numb." From these powerful words, we moved on to take a look at a few images of cover girls from popular magazines. I asked the girls to tell me how many women they knew personally who looked like the cover girls. This led to a discussion about looking inside yourself to find "the real you." Then we completed a survey about controversial issues involving women. The survey results provided opening discussion topics for the first 10 minutes of subsequent monthly club meetings.

A nurturing community.
From the start, the club's focus was on establishing a nurturing community where the girls could experience acceptance and a feeling of "we're all in this together." To help build a supportive community, each girl needed three things: time to discover and share who she really was on the inside, time to prepare for and experience real-life challenges, and time to develop ideas about her future. Here are some activities to use for each of the three categories.

Who are you?

  • Videotape each girl early in the year as she introduces herself and says what she wants to be "when she grows up." At the final club meeting, have each girl stand in front of the group and re-introduce herself. Play back her original video segment to see the changes in her confidence and her choices.

  • Create a hallway mural titled "What Is a Girl?" Have the girls write their names around the border and contribute artwork, words and photos illustrating the things that make them unique.

  • Let the girls reminisce about elementary school through a "show and tell" exercise in which they bring in one special item from their room at home.

  • Practice sharing/speaking in front of a group with fun discussions: my favorite/least favorite movie, the place I'd love to visit, etc. Be sure to give the girls tips about speaking clearly and making eye contact with their audience.

Groups of girls

Instead of perpetuating divisions, Chick Chat aimed to celebrate individuality and foster lasting friendships among sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls.

What are you facing?

  • Use a "Discussion Drop Box" for topics of interest. Draw one question from the box at the end of each meeting, and have a five-minute group discussion. This provides anonymity for the girls who are not yet confident enough to speak out.

  • Divide the girls into groups. Give each group a conflict to role-play. Discuss each situation after it is presented.

  • Invite a counselor from your local behavioral health center to speak with the girls about eating disorders and self-esteem issues. You might also show a video, but the question-and-answer session that a counselor can provide is the best part of this activity.

  • Arrange a visit from an officer from your local police department who can discuss techniques for crime prevention. In the case of self-defense speakers, each girl should have a guardian with her during the presentation; this is a great time for mothers and daughters to bond.

Where are you going?

  • Invite professionals to speak to the girls about being a successful woman in the work force. Have the girls practice handshakes, eye contact and questioning techniques prior to the visits so they're ready to welcome the guests and participate in discussions.

  • Plan a field trip to tour a local university. Request a female tour guide. This is a perfect time to discuss goal-setting, financial aid, scholarships.

  • Plan a field trip to see a fine arts performance in your area. Many performances would lend themselves to the theme of this club (e.g., the Girls Choir of Harlem).

  • Check out Internet sites designed especially for girls. Many sites offer links to colleges, contests and support groups that might interest the girls as they think about their futures.

  • Contact colleagues in other schools who might be interested in starting a similar club in their schools and let the girls establish e-mail pals among the groups.

These activities can easily carry a club through a whole year of monthly meetings. The social skills and self-confidence that the girls will gain will be invaluable tools as they make their way through middle school – and the rest of their lives.

April Love Llibre has taught for 14 years and is now pursuing her Master's Degree.