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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Vernon Middle School girls learn leadership skills in 4H program
Ricochet involves identifying a community problem and developing a project to address it
MARION — Ten eighth-grade girls were surrounded by stress. It tugged, it pushed and when one girl felt it, they all did.
In this exercise, stress was a large stretchy band that circled the group, pushing them toward each other and connecting them in a way that was fun and laugh-inducing, but also demonstrated how one person’s mental health affects their peers.
“How do you know when someone is stressed?” Emily Damro, 4H Youth Program specialist for Linn County, asked the Vernon Middle School students.
Answers: A bubbly friend going silent. When someone sighs deeply.
They then brainstormed ways to relieve stress, including getting exercise, deep breathing and doing a fun activity.
The Ricochet program is being offered this spring and next fall at Vernon Middle School through a grant from Women Lead Change, a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit dedicated to the development, advancement and promotion of women, their organizations, and to impacting the economy and future workforce.
The Marion Independent School Foundation & Alumni Association applied for the Girls with Goals grant last year and learned in November it had been chosen among seven recipients. The grant pays for training materials, snacks and a project the students develop and implement to improve a community problem.
“What I love about Ricochet is it’s always a different community problem,” Damro said. “We don’t just make a plan, but we follow through with it.”
Linn County 4H administers the program at Vernon and other schools.
Maggie Trilk, 14, of Marion, said the problem she and her peers identified is bullying.
“There’s a lot of harassment toward people who are different for their race, gender or sexuality,” she said. “A lot of people are afraid to speak up.”
When Trilk was a seventh-grader, she witnessed a transgender girl being harassed by other students and went to talk with the principal about it, she said.
She and fellow Ricochet members want Vernon students who are bullied to know they have allies. Their project is to make custom stickers with positive messages and give out the stickers and treats in the school cafeteria. Members will speak with students about their anti-harassment message.
Michelle Wilson, a social worker with the school district, referred some students to the program because she had seen their leadership skills at Vernon.
Lilly Hagler said she joined the group based on a recommendation from her mother.
“My mom told me I had a lot of leadership potential and I could use it in the community,” she said. While Hagler was friends with some of the girls before she joined Ricochet, she said she’s made new connections through the weekly after-school sessions.
“We have a big role,” she said about being the oldest in a school with grades fifth to eighth. “We want to leave the school a better place.”
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