STUDENTS | May 23, 2018
With chairs pulled close together, a group of teen girls from Fenger High School sat in a circle to openly discuss their feelings and their journey to womanhood.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, joined them as special guests in the girls-only space.
“It made me feel like they care and that they want to get involved because a lot of people don’t show up to Fenger,” said 16-year-old Rogerna Saunders.
She’s a part of WOW, or Working On Womanhood, a group counseling and clinical mentoring program that’s currently in 31 schools. Launched in 2011, the WOW team works with girls in seventh to 12th grade who have been exposed to trauma.
“A lot of girls come in with a lot of trauma,” said WOW Director Gail Day. “We assess them before they get into groups. We do trauma assessment, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and social anxiety. The good thing is that we’ve had a 67 percent reduction in depression for our girls. Mental health is the big thing with us.”
During the special visit, Dr. Jackson and Chicago first lady Amy Rule, participated in the group’s usual routine. One by one, each person gave a brief check-in, filling in the blank after saying, “I feel…”
Next, they took a few minutes to write in their journal, describing their happiest life moment so far. Those willing to share with the group did. After that, everyone was instructed to stand up and participate in a personal activity. In a unique version of the popular game “Four Corners,” four labels were taped on each of the four walls: Always, Sometimes, Often and Never.
A list of statements were read and the group separated, standing in the corner that best described them.
I express myself in a creative way.
Self-awareness is very important to me.
I help people.
After each statement, some were asked to share why they chose that corner.
At the end of the activity everyone came back together to debrief and the adults in the room were asked to share personal stories about their womanhood and lessons learned.
“It’s important to know that you’re enough, that you’re beautiful,” Rule said. “Ask for help because no one has done it alone.”
“I want to leave you with one thing and that’s to value your friendships with women,” Jackson said.
Aysa Ball, a 16-year-old junior, said that even though this is her first year in the program, there has already been an impact.
“I’m learning to work on myself, putting myself first and working on my self-esteem,” she said. “I enjoy WOW because it helps me figure out who I am for real. When I come into this space, I feel as if it’s home.”
Freshman Unikke Smith, is also in her first year.
“I love it and I really wish we had it in elementary school,” said the 15-year-old. “When I first started WOW, I wouldn’t say I was a horrible person, but I’ve changed and now I know how to cope and deal with my emotions. I’m progressing.”
Day said that the girls also meet one-on-one with their counselor and everyone in the group has been referred.
“The key is developing that relationship, developing that trust,” she said. “It’s helping them unpack a lot of stuff that feeds into them from various sources, social media, family, whatever. As a teen, all of that stuff comes in and it gets stuck there, and it’s like ‘How do I get this out?’ So WOW is a space for them to remove that stuff that’s been stuck in them and peel it off.”