Saturday, August 24, 2019

Girl Talk: Connecting High School Mentors to Middle School Students

My 3rd year as a middle school counselor, I inherited a female mentoring program that paired middle school girls with female staff members as mentors. For the two years, I participated in the program as a mentor and the first year I led the program, it felt successful. Mentors checked in with their mentees weekly and the whole group of mentors and mentees met monthly for a lesson or activity. Soon, however, the enthusiasm, interest, and consistency from some female staff members seemed to dwindle even with the strategies and supports I shared with mentors.

I love mentoring programs because it is a perfect way to create meaningful connections with students. However, inconsistency when trying to create connections can actually foster disconnection and mistrust with students. So I knew something had to change in the way we provided mentoring supports for our female students.

That is when my friend, school counseling guru, and personal counseling hype woman, Dianne Thompson, introduced me to Girl Talk, a program that pairs high school leaders with middle school girls.

"Girl Talk began in 2002 when one high school girl identified a problem and decided to make a difference. Haley Kilpatrick founded the first Girl Talk Chapter in Albany, Georgia, to help her younger sister through the challenging years of middle school. 
Today, Girl Talk has over 485 Chapters and has inspired over 70,000 girls across the nation and the world."  ~

We started our Girl Talk chapter last year for the 2018-2019 school year. Observing the high school Girl Talk leaders interact and talk with our middle school girls amazed me at every meeting. The Girl Talk curriculum and structure as well as the training the high school peer leaders received from their high school counselors created an atmosphere that supports the National Mentoring Resource Center's finding from their 2017 research review. Some of their findings are listed below. 

"The National Mentoring Resource Center released a review of research in 2017 related to cross-age peer mentoring for children and adolescents. The review concluded findings including the following:
  • Cross-age peer mentoring can accrue benefits to both the mentees and their mentors. 
  • The strongest effects for mentees appear to be increases in school attitudes (e.g., connectedness), relationships with adults (both teachers and parents) and peers, and improvements in internal affective states (e.g., self-esteem).
  • The consistent and affirming presence of mentors and the predictability from a clear program structure appears to be the means by which programs have positive effects.
The review also includes recommendations to enhance program practices. These recommendations include:
  • Lay a strong foundation for the program by selecting the right coordinators and the right mentors.
  • Select the right match activities to scaffold relationship building.
  • Provide lots of training and supervision to peer mentors. 
  • Let the youth lead as much as possible."    

You can find more information about the peer to peer mentoring research review at: 

So here is how we began our chapter of Girl Talk at our middle school...

Meeting Time:
We scheduled to hold Girl Talk after school at the middle school.  This way our high school leaders are available  to have a solid hour of time with our middle school girls and no one misses any classes during the day.  This time also seemed to be perfect for our high school leaders who were involved with their own after school activities. They were able to participate in those extra-curriculars before coming over to the middle school. 

I promoted the Girl Talk club to our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade middle school girls with posters around the school, morning announcements, and on our school's website to recruit members for the group. 

I made a video giving an overview of Girl Talk that I shared with one of our high school counselors to share with their female peer leaders along with a link to a google form to sign up to be a leader. 

Here are some resources from Girl Talk to help explain the program to recruit leaders and middle school members alike...


HS Leaders & Registering Our Chapter:
Our high school peer leaders are trained in relationship building by our high school counselors, so they were a perfect fit for Girl Talk. In addition, many of our high schoolers need to earn volunteer hours for peer leading and other clubs. Participating in Girl Talk not only allows the high school leaders to enhance their leadership skills and build their own confidence as leaders, but the bonus is they get a lot of volunteer hours doing something they are already passionate about. 
Once I had the leaders information and signed Girl Talk Leadership Contracts, I registered our chapter on the Girl Talk website. Registration was easy and with our multiple leaders, I just emailed all their contracts and contact information in to make sure they were all added to our chapter.

The Meetings & Curriculum:
I originally scheduled Girl Talk meetings for once a month. Girl Talk leaders would meet with me after school to plan the meeting for the following week with the middle school girls. 
We began with simple get to know you activities to help everyone build relationships and become comfortable with each other.  Then we began using the FREE Girl Talk Curriculum. The curriculum provides a consistent but flexible structure to each meeting. 

Each meeting included an icebreaker,  a story or anecdote related to the topic with discussion, a personal story from one of the leaders related to the topic, an activity or discussion questions for the  middle school girls to share how they connect with the topic, a closing activity and challenge of something to remember or do related to the topic as they apply their learning to their daily lives outside of the meetings. 

Curriculum Topics included but are not limited to: Body Image, Being Tech Savvy (including Cyber Bullying), Being a Good Friend, Self-Respect, Standing Up For What Is Right, Boys & Dating, Cliques, Gossip, Parents, Courage, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Life Skills (including Money Management and Time Management), College, Entrepreneurship, Diversity, etc.

When I met to plan with the leaders, they would choose the topic, review the curriculum for the topic, add their own personal connection to the curriculum, and decide who would lead which part of the meeting. 
Then the next week at the meeting, I would bring snacks for the group and just sit back and watch them lead! The high school leaders and middle school girls all decided after our first few meetings that they wanted to spend more time with each other, so we increased our meetings to two times each month. 
Our five high school leaders were so enthusiastic about supporting and teaching our middle school girls and the  middle school girls hung on every word they said! There were several moments when the leaders would give advice or share some information and the middle school girls would respond with "Oh wow! Really?"  Even though, this was information I shared with them just the week before!  There is such power in cross-age peer mentoring!

We even were honored with a visit last year from Haley Kilpartrick, the founder of Girl Talk, at one of our spring meetings! 

Our Second Year of Girl Talk:
 I needed to recruit new leaders as all my leaders from the previous year had graduated and are headed to college now all over the country. I visited our high school's peer leading classes as a guest speaker about stepping our of you comfort zone and then recruited leaders at the end of my talk. So far I have 19 leaders signed up and they are EXCITED! Their passion for leading at Girl Talk is a part of what makes their interactions with our middle school girls so meaningful and impactful. 

They are creating videos for me to show on our middle school morning announcements inviting our girls to join Girl Talk. I have posters ups around the school and a sign up on the website as well again. All 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls are invited. Plus I will be sending special invitations to some female students who showed up in our counseling department's data review as may needing some extra support. 
This year we will meet twice a month as a whole group and the leaders will meet with me once a month to plan the two meetings for that month. 
In addition, this year we will be participating in a service project that our leaders and middle school students will determine. 

We also have another middle school in our cluster that feeds into the high school. Since we have so many interested leaders, we are going to split them in half and I am assisting the other middle school in beginning their own chapter of Girl Talk as well. 

For even more information about Girl Talk visit their website:
There are so many other opportunities for middle school girls and leaders including summer camp, scholarships, and an ambassador program. 

If you have any questions, contact Girl Talk. They are incredibly helpful, supportive, and truly want the best for both the high school leaders and middle school girls.