SCHOOLS | March 9, 2018
Nicole Smith-Franklin, a social studies teacher at Hoyne Elementary School, says she remembers the exact moment she felt the need to facilitate a conversation between her young female students. A group of students were teasing another student, she says. Once a pre-teen herself, with large glasses and a sense of style unlike what others considered “cool,” Smith-Franklin said she could relate to the student being bullied. She says she remembers being “teased about almost everything.”
That’s when the idea for “Girl Talk” came into fruition. The first event will be held at Hoyne, a school in the Calumet Heights neighborhood, Saturday, March 10 from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The event will include breakout sessions led by women to encourage open dialogue between female students. Divided into five sections, “Girl Talk” will address themes such as anti-bullying, conflict resolution, self-esteem building, friendships, and more.
CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade, and long distance runner, Charlotte Taylor, are attending the event to talk about the importance of finding your voice as a woman and developing a career. In the end, Smith-Franklin says she hopes all “Girl Talk” participants will leave not only encouraged, but confident.
We sat down with Smith-Franklin to learn about her vision for the event and why supporting young women is important to her. The responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What inspired you to create and organize this event?
A: I’ve always been an advocate for growing girls and helping them with issues that I struggled with [myself] growing up. I noticed there was a need for girls to have an alternative perspective in their search for success, and positive role models. So I felt this conference was a way I could meet that need.
Q: What are some themes that will be addressed?
A: We will address the themes of confidence and overcoming fears, friendships, relationships, and etiquette. We’ll also talk about careers, bullying and conflict resolution.
Q: What will the day consist of?
A: The day will begin at 10:30 a.m. (registration at 10 a.m.) with a warm welcome, a reminder to take the event seriously and to try to get all they can from our guests. We will have one guest speaker talk about personal hygiene. During this talk the girls will receive a kit, which will include a small bag containing [feminine products], deodorant, lotion, mints and more. After the hygiene talk our three keynote speakers will speak.
Q: When did you realize this event needed to happen for the young women at Hoyne?
A: I would hear students in class making fun of another for their body odor. It would come from some of my well-mannered students, some of the girls who I didn’t even know talked or felt that way about anything negative. To witness them address this young woman in our class, in a confrontational manner, it was like, ‘I know you have good intentions, but that’s not necessarily the way to take care of that.’
So, that to me, was where two important segments of the conversation came from—the actual hygiene talk and the breakout session on how to be a good friend. Because, if you see a friend having an issue, you want to address it, but if you don’t have those communication skills on how to talk about something sensitive, it might come out the wrong way. You could end up hurting someone’s feelings when really you were just trying to help them.
Q: How can you relate to this event personally?
A: As a 6th, 7th, 8th grader, I was very awkward. I didn’t understand the different things that were happening to my body. My mother and I were close, but not necessarily as close as we are now. I didn’t really talk to her about hygiene or about how I looked, or anything.
I have been bullied and I have been teased about almost everything. I had these awful, huge glasses and I dressed weird. Nobody really showed me how to be a young lady. I was kind of just here. It wasn’t until I got to high school and made female friends, that I was shown, ‘This is how to use this’ and ‘This is how to do that,’ or ‘This is how to take care of your body when it’s that time of the month.’
Q: What are you hoping young women experience during this event?
A: First, I am hoping they will be enlightened and have questions answered about self-esteem and just loving themselves, and being okay with who they are. I also want them to know it’s alright if they don’t date yet.
I hope when it comes to relationships, whether dating or friendships, they know it’s okay to be yourself. As long as you like the person you are, then you are good enough. You will be fine as long as you are happy with who you are.
And then looking at aspects of the future, like what kind of possibilities lie out there for me as a young woman? Most of the women who we teach are young women of color. That’s why our guests sharing their personal experiences will be important.
Seeing someone successful will hopefully open their eyes and if they can see that they made it, then it’s definitely possible for them to be successful too.
Q: In what ways will this conference incorporate social and emotional learning?
A: This conference will offer strategies for the attendees to learn how to embrace their emotions and experiences, as well as how to positively and productively adjust to situations, especially those that may not be favorable.
Q: There are a lot of movements taking place in the media surrounding women empowerment. Are you relating this event to those movements in any way?
A: The entire idea of the conference is about women empowerment and encouraging other women and other girls to be themselves and successful. A lot of our keynote speakers are going to touch on what’s going on in the media today, and how being a woman today is something that we are all proud of.