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Providing a 'Lift' to Younger Girls through Reading

AHS student Katherine Langford models, cultivates empowerment

Perhaps no one is better suited to mentor and encourage others than someone who knows what it's like, who has endured the difficulties and survived.  A person who has been where you are and who has developed resilience, character, and strength is someone you can trust help you take important steps forward.

That's the idea behind Rise, a reading and mentorship group for 6th-grade girls, created by Katherine Langford. The program will begin its third year at Avon Intermediate School West and is quickly spreading to area school corporations.

"Self-confidence is the greatest need I see in the lives of the girls I spend time with," says Langford. "Self-confidence can either be the greatest obstacle or strength in a young girl's life. It will affect her choices, her relationships, what she thinks she can or cannot do, and virtually every part of her life." Langford has done her research. She points out studies from Harvard Education and Psychology Today reporting that teachers interact with boys from 10 to 30% more than their female classmates, that middle school girls are only half as likely as the boys to admit that they like themselves, and that 75% of girls between ages 14-19 felt seen as a sexual object or felt unsafe at school. These facts drove Langford to action.

If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young. 

Maya Angelou

A lover of books and someone who has walked a mile in the shoes of the 6th grade girls in the group, Langford is passionate about the mission of Rise: "By creating trust through a mentorship program, Rise inspires girls to see their worth and to lift each other up. Rise uses literature as a springboard for young women to not only see the strength in others but also for them to see that strength in themselves."

Langford has big plans for the group that include short-term goals of increasing outside reading among participants, strengthening participation in group discussions, and educating others about the importance of this type of activity for girls. Her long-term goals include expanding Rise to other schools (so far, Plainfield Schools), training mentors to lead groups in other schools, and making a lasting impact on girls' middle school experience. 

She's already making progress. "I'm in awe when I see the members of the group participating. These are girls who in their classrooms lack the confidence to participate and engage and could slip through the cracks, but they are participating eagerly in the discussions Katherine leads," says Avon Intermediate School West Principal Amber Walters. "She is an incredible person, and she has such a gift for helping the girls feel comfortable, engaging with them, and helping them see their true self-worth." Rise meets at AIS West, and participants are nominated by their teachers and school administrators. Between each of the 12 sessions, the girls read a curated selection of books designed to help them discover who they are, strengthen their relationships, and make big contributions to the world around them.

"In the past, I've had to copy and distribute excerpts from books, passages I knew would be relevant and helpful," says Langford. This year, that won't be necessary because ACSC's Mental Wellness Coordinator Krista Fay has partnered with Langford to provide Project AWARE funds to purchase books for the participants.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I rise.

Maya Angelou

"What Katherine is doing is incredible," says Fay. "The impact she is making on the young women she's mentoring is exactly in line with the important work we are doing for the mental wellness of students across the district." Fay notes that she sees in Langford a picture of what she hopes the young women in our district become: strong, creative, bold, self-assured, and focused on making our schools and community stronger and better by helping others. "I want to support what she is doing and see it be multiplied across and beyond Avon Schools," says Fay.

Langford is excited to get started with a new group of 6th-grade girls this fall. She's already off to a strong start, armed with her own passion and experience, the support of school and district administrators like Walters and Fay, and boxes full of books that will open the door to life-changing conversations for several young women.

In a few years—no doubt inspired by Langford's example—several of these young women will be ready to turn around and help other girls who are where they once were.