If you walk through the halls of Germantown Academy's Middle School, you'll hear about the many student leadership opportunities that have been created by Middle School faculty, including a very special program created by Director of Middle School Student Life Kate Cassidy and Middle School English teacher Sara Goodwin. About three years ago, both Cassidy and Goodwin noticed that the eighth grade girls really needed their own space to come together and talk.
"I was seeing it was tough for the girls a couple years ago to step up, and so I started doing some reading and thinking about leadership for women in general and why it's a challenge," said Cassidy.
With that thought in mind, Cassidy and Goodwin created the Eighth Grade Girls' Lunches "to discuss leadership and promote leadership skills that can prove to be challenging for young girls."
"We want to promote self-awareness and self-confidence and encourage them to let their voices be heard," said Goodwin.
The program has been divided into two parts. In the first part, back in the fall, Goodwin and Cassidy met with every eighth grade girl once over lunch. Students were randomly assigned to groups and invited to lunch where they were introduced to the "shine theory," which promotes amplification and positive support for each other.
"I read this article about President Obama's cabinet," said Cassidy. "One of the only women on the cabinet was being talked over. Women on the cabinet did amplification, meaning, if one woman said something the others would say what it was and support it. If you shine, we shine is the idea. Our initial conversations revolved around how girls look at each other as competition instead of being supportive forces, but the more we support each other the better off we are. The first part of the program we introduced them to that theory and also tried to understand what it is like to be a girl at GA; what it is like to be a girl navigating eighth grade dynamics. They talked a lot and then we talked about the shine theory."
After those initial lunches, Cassidy and Goodwin started the monthly lunches that are open to any eighth grade girl where they have discussed "women in corporate America, women in the entertainment industry, how gender plays into the sports world, and how gender plays a role in life at GA."
"We believe that teaching leadership can help promote resiliency, perseverance, and the ability to problem-solve," said Goodwin. "We are hopeful that the Eighth Grade Girls' Lunches are helping the eighth grade girls find their voices and have the confidence to share their opinions.
"We feel that the overall focus on student leadership in the Middle School has really put kids at the center of our activities," continued Goodwin. "Whether they are discussing important topics at the Eighth Grade Girls' Lunches, leading our Tuesday Morning Meetings, or practicing the leadership skills as part of their Lead Lab project, students are able to find their voice and hopefully gain confidence."
Cassidy and Goodwin were also involved in the creation of another leadership initiative when they helped launch the 7th Grade Leadership Lab, which is a class designed to provide a framework for students to intentionally develop, learn, and practice the skills necessary to become leaders in the GA community and beyond.
"It's great," said Cassidy. "I think it's a good way to support and encourage students to be better overall citizens. You can't be a positive leader without caring about things. I am most energized by seeing kids caring about things. It's a concrete way to encourage those types of behaviors that are prone to lead to success."
"The focus on student leadership in the Middle School has undoubtedly been a group effort!" added Goodwin. "So many individuals have come together and helped. For example, Jay Wright (Middle School Health & Wellness Department Head, 7th Grade Student Advisor, Student Government) has helped to transform the Student Government, allowing students to take on more of a leadership role in their lives as Middle Schoolers; Kate has helped introduce how to do Student-Led Conferences and has led the 8th Grade Girls Lunches; and Pete Jennings (Middle School English Teacher, Assistant Director of Athletics – Middle School) helps our student-athletes lead their teams with positivity. Finally, Jonas Jeswald, as Head of Middle School, has been beyond supportive and encouraging in our efforts to promote Student Leadership. Whenever we toss out an idea like Eighth Grade Girls' Lunches or Student-Led Conferences, he encourages us to 'go for it' and supports us 110% in our collective efforts."