When sixth grade language arts teacher Jessica Borek first began formulating what would soon become known as the GIRLS group at Bordentown Regional Middle School, she hoped to get at least 15 students to attend the first meeting. Instead, to Borek’s surprise, 57 middle school girls attended the inaugural workshop on Feb. 9, eager to partake in the new organization.
GIRLS is a leadership organization that hosts workshops every month and is the first girls-only club of its kind at Bordentown Regional Middle School. The group, which was founded by Borek and eighth graders Mahek Awasarmol, Gina Dauber and Summer Roberts, focuses on one aspect of character development per meeting.
“The girls really were the inspiration behind it,” Borek said, who has been teaching at Bordentown for 10 years. She went on to explain how what she really wanted the group to be was “a space where girls feel free to share and discuss” the things they typically can’t during school hours.
“Talking to these girls always reminds me of how I was in middle school,” Borek said. “I wish that something like this existed for me then.”
Borek wished to create an environment that could address different aspects of the girls’ lives that would function as a network of support.
“Having the girls in class and talking to them outside of class, I noticed that these girls are very mature and aware of current events,” Borek said.
Borek also said that an article about the “Future Lady Leaders” organization in Mount Laurel inspired her to create something closer to home.
Several other teachers and faculty members have lent helping hands at the workshops, which take place on Friday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m.
“My administration has been incredibly supportive” Borek said. The faculty even held two “Jeans Days” where money was raised to buy pizza and supplies for the meetings.
When asked what makes this group unique, members’ answers reflected some of the struggles girls commonly face in the transitional, and sometimes turbulent, period of middle school.
“There is no pressure in this group,” Roberts said during a group interview. “In this group all you have to do is try to better yourself…It’s such a supportive environment.”
Juliana Lawrence, a sixth grader said, “I like how everybody is happy. In a group, everyone is nicer to each other.”
The members also came up with the name for the organization. GIRLS is an acronym that stands for “Guiding and supporting, Interesting discussions, Realizing our worth, Learning from each other and Striving to be our best.”
“It’s different from other groups because other groups focus on academics. This program focuses on who we are outside of school,” said Flavia Almeida, a seventh grader.
With activities like yoga, meditation and gratitude journals, it comes as no surprise that the club is popular among girls who are facing new challenges and stressors in this age driven by likes and followers on social media.
In the past, meetings have focused on building confidence and expressing gratitude. But Borek says she hopes to tackle more challenging topics like the importance of resilience, communication and conflict resolution and maybe one day partaking in service projects.
“I’m all about female empowerment,” Awasarmol said. “When we first talked about this program, we talked about how it benefits all these girls. Girls need more motivation in a way…they can be left behind, and this can help to show them their self-worth.”
“Ms. Borek is always helping me with problems,” Lawrence added. “It would be nice to do something to help others.”
Some girls in the club saw this as an opportunity to help ease the transition from elementary school into middle school and then into high school.
“At the end of fifth grade, you’re not ready for middle school. The atmosphere in the middle school is totally different,”sixth grader Nina Guidotti said. “I think this program will help me to survive middle school…Every time you enter a new school, having people around you reminds you that you can get through it.”
The program, which is only open to middle school girls, will work as a network for girls navigating through the process.
“With some of the groups at school, there are older or younger members, but with this, all of us are the same age and we’re all from the same place. It’s relevant to everybody,” seventh grader Jade Delaney said.
Roberts also added, “Ms. Borek really helped me with my confidence and to see myself in a positive light. If she can do it with me, why can’t I help other girls?”
That type of reaction to the program is meaningful to Borek. She went on to explain how, after just two meetings, she is already seeing positive changes in some girls.
“Actually getting to see them make eye contact, my heart is so full. When I get to see the difference, and see the girls putting these things into practice, seeing how they’ve grown into confident young women, it makes me have to be a better person,” she said.
Along with developing skills to become an “everyday leader,” as Borek puts it, the workshops also focus on female empowerment. “Giving the girls the understanding that they have a voice, and they have every right to speak up” is a main goal of the program, she said.
This tool will be essential to these girls, as many of them have aspirations of becoming biochemists, social workers, detectives and teachers.
“I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” Almeida said. “I see how much impact they have on people our age and I want to be able to do that for others.”
Though the organization is still relatively young, the graduating eighth grade girls hope to create a similar club when they get to Bordentown Regional High School, as nothing like the organization exists there.
In addition, according to Borek, there are tentative plans to have the organization meet with girls in the fifth grade who are going into middle school. Borek hopes to have girls from the high school meet with the club members in eighth grade as well, so as to create a network ensuring a smoother transition from school to school. It will help to “let them know they are not alone,” Borek said.
Programs such as GIRLS are rare at the middle school level, which is arguably one of the toughest phases teens go through. In an age that is dominated by social media and constant scrutinization, workshops such as these can be imperative in developing healthy habits and mindsets among teenage girls. These benefits can have significant impacts on both those receiving them and those helping to create them.
After the first GIRLS meeting, Borek explained just how much of an impact the experience had on her and her colleagues.
“We just stood there and stared at each other,” she said. “The positivity inspired us. We’ve all been inspired to improve ourselves. We’ve been inspired by them.”