PHILIPPA Branson is a young woman who when she sees a problem is then prepared to put a lot of her own time and effort into seeking a solution.
It’s that mentality that led to the development of the groundbreaking program “Girls Day In” that proved a huge success when offered for the first time to middle-school girls at Assisi College, Coomera.
The two-day program focuses on empowering young adolescent girls to develop a strong enough self-identity to be more aware of negative pressures and messages from peers, the Internet and the broader media.
The inaugural program was so successful Philippa wants to see it offered in as many schools as possible.
She said the program sprang from an overheard schoolyard conversation between young girls in the target age group.
“I was horrified and they were talking about boys and they were just being really weak,” she said.
Having come from a feminist education herself with a strong role model in her own mother, Philippa also believes that while much attention has been paid to supporting boys in retaining their identity in 21st century society, girls need just as much support.
“A few years ago when I was still at uni there was that sort of crisis of manhood, of masculinity and ‘metrosexual’ and all these different terms coming up, and I do think that girls have been forgotten and I think there are so many choices out there (for them),” she said.
“They talk about different ways to be male but there are different ways of being female as well and I think we need to show these girls that different is good.”
Philippa said many young girls in the middle-school years were lacking self-respect.
“They don’t have a lot of self-confidence. They are very vulnerable, very open to any suggestion and I think that role models out there aren’t very good at the moment in that it’s all about image.
“It’s all about boyfriends and I just don’t think the girls know what to do with themselves.
“They think that having the best image, looking right, getting attention from boys is the right way to go about it, but it’s not.
“You have to love yourself before you can love anything else so that’s what we wanted to teach the girls.”
Philippa, who comes from a family of Catholic school educators, also believes she has a realistic and personal understanding of many of the problems faced by young girls in this age bracket.
She grew up in Devonport, Tasmania, and the family moved to Brisbane when she was 12. She began her secondary education at All Hallows’ School.
“And I was just lost. I was absolutely lost. My development was much earlier than everyone else and I thought, ‘I’m the only one going through this’, and my self-confidence just plummeted,” Philippa said.
She said she didn’t tell her parents of her concerns because “you don’t talk to your parents at that age”.
“I got through that myself. I had resilience and it wasn’t until I was in Grade 11 that I felt I was becoming myself again so I have always been very attuned to this stage of development and I don’t want other girls to think they are the only ones out there,” she said.
Philippa said the Girls Day In program looked at developing a strong identity for young women.
“Because there are so many things out there at the moment, so many temptations and I just don’t think we can control that, so I thought if we change within the girls they can have informed choices,” she said.
Philippa said the program was developed by strong female role models within the Assisi College community.
“I came up with the idea and then I took it to the women who jumped at the chance to be able to help these young girls,” she said.
She said sessions were offered by several female teachers during the two days, and issues such as basic self-defence moves were covered by an outside group called “Safe Choices”.
“We had Zumba to begin which got everyone feeling good about themselves and doing a little bit of exercise and it was unbelievable. Every girl did it and had a smile on their face,” she said.
Philippa, who teaches middle-school drama and English said the teachers involved ran several separate sessions.
“I did one using drama to deal with real-life problems and friendship conflicts, trying to get the girls to understand that everyone has problems so we can support each other more,” she said.
She said that included recounting her own personal story of the move to a new state.
“I’d come to school and went, ‘everyone’s hated me, I have no friends’ (and by me telling my story) the students would know that other people have been through it as well. They are not the only ones.
“We also did yoga and meditation because I think during the middle years, and I know myself, you stress because all of a sudden you are not a kid anymore and you have all these stresses and I think they think they are the only ones out there stressing.
“All these things are happening, (to them) they are (saying) ‘why me, what’s going on’ so we taught them a few things so that at night time if they are still stressing at 12 o’clock they could meditate to calm themselves down.”
Philippa said a major part of Girls Day In was personal presentation and etiquette.
“We looked at the way they dress and had sessions on how to dress in something that suited them – not to just follow fashion, not to put on a whole heap of make-up – how to present themselves appropriately and then looked at what their appearance said to other people,” she said.
Philippa said Girls Day In also looked at stereotypes and media, and offered sessions allowing young girls to examine advertisements and then to look at the computer methods used to change images.
“This was so the girls could look critically at the ads and stop comparing themselves to a computer image, and to understand that while magazines present stereotypes (the girls) themselves don’t need to be that way,” she said.
Philippa said the inaugural Girls Day In program had the full support of Assisi College principal Dora Luxton and boys were offered a separate Boys Day Out. She said it was important to separate the genders so they could talk about the real issues, without fear of rejection or humiliation.
“We offered the program in the last week of the 2010 school year.
“It was held on the Monday and Tuesday of the very last week and in fact enrolments were up, kids who usually stay away came and teachers were switched on so relationships were built between them and it was a fun filled two days.”
She said the program finished with a mother and daughter get together and she hoped Girls Day In would equip participants with a ‘toolbox’ to deal with situations they would face in the next few years including pressures such as drink and drugs.
“There’s always going to be choices that girls will have to make and instead of just following along and doing that because ‘it’s cool’ (they can) maybe think for themselves, well that’s not really what they want for themselves or if they do get into that kind of situation to have a little toolbox like some of the ‘safe choices’.
“I hope they will now know how to get themselves out of situations, know to be aware of situations so they are not led in blindly.
“And if they do find themselves in a vulnerable situation knowing that they do have steps they can use or skills we have given them to get themselves out and protect their reputation and protect their future.”
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