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Smart-Girl Program Helps Young Women Develop Important Skills

April 11, 2012 — The University of Wyoming Lab School has initiated the Smart-Girl program that specializes in empowering adolescents, specifically middle-school-aged girls, to learn the attributes of a healthy relationship and to build on self-confidence.

Professor Colleen Denney, director of the Gender and Women's Studies Program, learned about the Smart-Girl program at the National Women's Studies Association Conference in January.

"The Smart-Girl program catches girls at that crucial moment of early adolescence to teach them smart skills, in terms of team building, healthy relationships, understanding their bodies, being able to think critically about all of the mixed messages that the media portrays," Denney says. "We want to teach them to do away with all that ‘mean girl' behavior that we see because girls are frustrated with their lack of power."

Girls, usually of middle-school age who have participated in the program, tend to have better high school graduation rates, lower pregnancy rates and higher grades in math and science, Denney says. Smart-Girl involves three types of participants -- the girls themselves, girl guides and coaches.

Each session starts with a check-in, allowing participants to share how they feel in that particular moment. Each girl is given a chance to share, use active listening skills and know she is not alone. Participants then move onto confidence-building and team-building activities.

"Students come into the university and they don't understand consent, the definition of a healthy sexual relationship or how they are supposed to operate with the opposite sex," Denney says. "If we start when they are young, our hope is that they will be less likely to put up with abusive relationships and learn to identify them."

The Lab School is the second school in Wyoming to offer the project. Denney wants the program to extend to other schools in Laramie and statewide.

Sponsors of the program include the UW Foundation through a Wyoming Community Foundation grant; UW Office of Student Affairs; the Service, Leadership and Community Engagement (SLCE) office; the College of Arts and Sciences; Albany County School District; UW Lab School; and the Gender and Women's Studies program.

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