Mentoring program pairs female leaders and six grade girls for lessons in leadership and character development. Elizabeth LaFleur/STAFF
"Your address," Diana Watson, anchor at Fox Carolina News, read aloud to a classroom full of sixth grade girls.
The girls responded with a resounding "no".
Watson was leading an exercise on making smart decisions on social media at Lakeview Middle School. Students were asked whether their address was something to share online or not share.
The exercise was part of the latest session in a six-week course designed to help rising sixth-grade girls develop leadership skills during a transitional period in their lives.
The courses are taught by female volunteers with the United Way's Women's Leadership Program. The courses are offered as part of United Way of Greenville County's OnTrack program which focuses on helping students in middle grades succeed. It's done in partnership with the Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) program.
This summer, UW volunteers and young female students are meeting for about an hour each Wednesday for six weeks in the summer. Each session focuses on a different topic. Carol Kunkel is volunteer coordinator for the program. She believes timing is everything when it comes to reaching children.
"It's critically important, especially in the middle school years, because that's when students can really start to disengage and lose interest in school," Kunkel said. "So we really want to get into the critical time of middle school and help these young lady scholars make a difference in their own lives."
Sixth graders are a good fit for the program because it gives them an opportunity to get familiar with a new school and their soon-to-be classmates, as well as some of the faculty before the school year even begins.
Watson was one of about a dozen volunteers from around the Greenville community who met with students Wednesday. She led the session, opening the discussion by asking the girls how many of them use social media. Nearly every hand in the classroom was raised.
Watson and the volunteers talked the girls through various situations they may face online, covering everything from being asked to share their home address to how to handle online bullying. Each situation was presented as an opportunity for students to voice their own concerns and share what they felt like might be the safest or smartest response.
Students were encouraged to share personal stories of things they'd seen on Facebook, reminding the room that, in 2017, even elementary aged kids are at least somewhat familiar with social media.
Being able to engage with students at an impressionable age can make a big difference in where they go next, Kunkel said.
"Having girls see someone who can help coach and mentor and lead and support and bond, has been a fantastic experience for both the kids and the volunteers," she said.
Women who'd like to get involved in the program can learn more at HandsonGreenville.org.