I am a licensed clinical social worker who has worked in the field for 19 years and have been working in New York City Public Schools since 2015. I was hired at the Angelo Patri Middle School, (MS 391), 13 years ago. The school is located in a community that is underserved and many of our families earn minimum wage or below minimum wage. The majority of students are immigrants or from immigrant families. Some students have experienced multiple traumas in our communities and some have witnessed traumatic events. We also have students whose families have sought asylum, and have witnessed traumatic events in the countries of origin.
One year after being hired at MS 391, I realized that many of the conflicts in the school, both physical and verbal, were between girls. After obtaining permission from the principal, I developed a survey to get an idea of what most of the conflicts were about and whether the young ladies would be interested in attending an after-school program where the focus would be geared towards building a sisterhood, discussing the challenges girls face daily in our communities and around the globe and creating linkages between both.
Feedback from the surveys was very positive and led to the development of our after-school program, the Girls’ Circle. The overall mission of the program is to provide opportunities for the members to build and enhance their self-esteem, raise their aspirations and increase self-efficacy which will in turn promote a healthy lifestyle and positive choices as leaders in their community. Last year, the Girls’ Circle partnered with Global G.L.O.W. to enhance our programming and provide extra resources.
Each year one social work intern is assigned to assist with the program in the role of mentor. The program participants who graduate and move on to high school also return as mentors and are able to guide the members on preparing for their transition to high school. Including mentors is a vital part of the Girls’ Circle and Global G.L.O.W. programming in general. Having the support of someone who is there solely for you, to support, teach and celebrate your accomplishments can have a positive impact on a girls’ social and emotional growth. This is especially true during the middle school years. Even when achieving good grades and having perfect attendance, many middle school girls feel alone and struggle with self-esteem and self-worth. Cultural pressures also play a major role in affecting the emotional health and self-confidence in girls. At times, girls struggle with being accepted, saying and doing the right thing and being heard. This is true not only in school, but in their communities (on the block). Mentors are able to provide a listening ear and empathize with these interpersonal struggles.
Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who do not have a mentor.
(The Mentoring Effect 2014)
The mentoring aspect of the Girls’ Circle is a unique one because our mentors attended the same middle school as their mentees and most continue to live in the community. The fact that their mentors have travelled a similar path gives the mentees a sense that though their experiences are not the same, their mentors are able to relate to what they are going through as well as some challenges they face in school, at home and in the community. The high school and college mentors are given the opportunity to run workshops with the middle school girls. This benefits both mentors and mentees. The mentees are able to experience a sense of hope listening to the stories of the young ladies who have sat in the very seat they are sitting in. The Girls’ Circle provides a safer space to connect through shared experiences.
I have noticed a difference in the girls when mentors enter the space. The girls are excited to see them and greet them with warmth and genuine happiness. They are more open to sharing and taking risks, as they feel safe from judgment when the mentors are present. Having mentors as a part of the program has had a significant impact on the girls attendance and how they approach their academics. They enter the space proud to share test scores, improved grades and words of encouragement from teachers.
Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class.
(The Mentoring Effect 2024) Public/ Private Venture Studies of Big Brothers Big Sisters)
As a facilitator for the Girls’ Circle for the past 12 years, I am positive that a healthy and supportive mentoring relationship where the mentors are females is central to the success of pre-teen and teen girls. This is especially true in underserved communities and schools that are labeled “high risk” by the board of education.
Michelle Jervis is coordinator for The Girls’ Circle mentoring program in New York City. The Girls’ Circle partners with Global G.L.O.W. to provide out of school programming to mentor girls to advocate for themselves and make their communities stronger. Michelle says the biggest plus for her working with Global G.L.O.W. is having a wonderful support person in Olivia-Jaffe-Pachilo. “I have run the program alone for many years and have been overwhelmed many times over. Monthly check-ins and her availability through email and phone calls have minimized the stress and taken the pressure off me having to figure out all the day to day tasks on my own.”