Many of us can remember how difficult middle school can be. Many of us could have benefitted from having the opportunity to discuss our concerns and frustrations with a caring, young adult—someone to listen, support, provide validation, and encourage us.
G.R.O.W - Growing into Respected Outstanding Women - is a mentoring program which pairs a select group of young adult undergraduate and graduate women (under 25 years old) who possess outstanding leadership qualities with a select group of middle school girls from Calloway County and Murray Middle Schools who could benefit from interactions with a positive female role model.
Thanks for all who interviewed this year!
Currently under the supervision of Abigail French, Counselr of the MSU Women’s Center, and Angie Trzepacz, director of the MSU Psychological Center, the G.R.O.W. program is in its eleventh year at MSU. The program is designed to foster personal growth and develop leadership skills in both the college women and middle school girls. Through interactions with a positive female role model, the program aims to enhance the self-esteem of the middle school girls and to help develop and nurture their potential. The program gives college women a chance to, not only develop leadership skills, but also improve their communication skills, make new, life-long friends, and be involved in meaningful ways on campus.
G.R.O.W. was created in the fall of 2001 by an intern, Kennette Cleaver, who was completing her minor in Youth and Non-profit Leadership. She worked closely with Jane Etheridge and adapted G.R.O.W. from the Young Women Leaders Program, a mentoring program established at the University of Virginia in 1997 by directors Kim Roberts, Ph.D., and Winx Lawrence, Ph.D.
The Young Women Leaders Program developed out of concern about the self-esteem of adolescent girls. In the early 1990’s, a study by the American Association of University Women found that as girls move from childhood into adolescence, their self-esteem drops significantly. The Young Women Leaders Program was designed to respond to that concern as well as have other benefits. Through structured and unstructured interactions with a pre-teen, an undergraduate college woman could share her many gifts with others and help a young girl learn about her own leadership potential in a supportive, diverse, and safe environment.
Since the 2001-‘02 school year when the program began at Murray State University, Ms. Etheridge has selected student coordinators from the previous mentors to oversee the program for each subsequent year. The 2011-’12 student coordinators for the Calloway County Middle School Program are Brittany Mitan and Ruby Parker and the leaders for the Murray Middle School program are Jessica Chandler and Bethany Eschman.
College women interested the G.R.O.W. program go through an application process at the beginning of the fall semester. The women, sophomores through graduate level (under 25 years old), submit an application, a list of references, and an essay. Applications are evaluated and narrowed down to a smaller pool for interviewing. The interview process is thorough, examining both the emotional stability, communication skills, and level of commitment of each applicant. Ultimately, 20-28 mentors are selected. They immediately begin a nine-week training program, meeting two hours each week. Training is designed to prepare the young women to be effective mentors as well as to develop a “team” of diverse women who demonstrate respect for each other and what each woman brings to the program.
In late October and early November, middle school administrators, counselors, teachers, and parents nominate girls who they believe can benefit from contact with a positive female, young adult role model. In addition, any interested girl can also complete a self-nomination form in which she must also include a teacher’s endorsement for her suitability for the program. The program supervisors and the student coordinators (with input from the school guidance counselors) select G.R.O.W. participants from the submitted nominations. Effort is made to select a diverse group of girls, varying in age, race, background, educational level and socioeconomic level. At Calloway Middle School, nominations are accepted from the 6th-8th grade while at Murray Middle School, nominations are accepted from 7th and and 8th graders. The nominees are narrowed down to equal the number of college mentors selected for each school with 3-4 alternates also determined. A parent meeting is held at each school to explain the program and parental permission is obtained. After finalizing the group of middle school girls for each school, each girl is carefully paired with a college mentor assigned to her same school. During the spring semester, the “bigs” and “littles” meet weekly as a group in their respective middle school for a two-hour period. In addition, pairs are encouraged to meet twice a month for one-on-one interactions outside the weekly sessions. During weekly sessions, discussions and activities are directed towards relevant issues in the girls’ lives. Topics from the previous year included body image, assertiveness, self-esteem, leadership, stereotyping and its effects, peer pressure, and values clarification.
In addition to the weekly sessions and spending time together outside the structured program, G.R.O.W. participants at each school decide upon and engage in a community project in the spring. In connection with the annual celebration of Women’s History Month at Murray State, the girls and college mentors attend the Celebrate Women Luncheon each March. Finally, the middle school girls also spend one day in late April on the Murray State University campus. The day known as "Take a Little to School Day" is designed to expose the girls to the college experience in hopes that they all will set a goal to earn a college degree.