Female Student Leaders Empower Their Peers at Jean Steckle PS

The energy was palpable at Jean Steckle Public School in Kitchener on the evening of Wednesday, May 15 as 50 female students from Grades 5 through 8 from Jean Steckle and Janet Metcalfe Public Schools gathered to take part in a Girls’ Night In. As soon as the doors opened, attendees flowed in, eager to take part in the evening’s festivities, which included a maze, cookie decorating, photo booth, inspirational speaker and more. Participants kicked off the night and got moving thanks to an energetic dance class led by Kim Basler, a group fitness instructor for GoodLife Fitness.

The school’s Girl Talk Empowerment chapter was responsible for organizing the event, and Jan Laffin, a teacher at Jean Steckle and one of the staff coordinators of the club, explained the Girls’ Night In was intended to wrap-up the club’s first year at the school. “Tonight’s about celebrating our whole Girl Talk year,” said Laffin.

The students took the lead on this event, Laffin explained, from planning the focus of the evening to the individual activities each of the girls would get to take part in. “We just supported them,” said Laffin. “It was them becoming leaders.” This was emblematic of how teachers at the school have come to know they can lean on these students when they need support, she explained.

Members of the Girl Talk Empowerment chapter at Jean Steckle stand before the crowd of attendees during their Girls’ Night In event.

Apart from being an evening of fun, bonding and role-modelling, it also presented a number of learning opportunities for participants. The aim of the evening, Laffin pointed out, was to help inspire girls “to be themselves.” “It builds community and it empowers the girls to do what they dream of doing,” she said. Most importantly, it teaches them that with a little hard work and determination, no goal is out of reach.

The group wanted to make an impact beyond their school community and selected the Innisfree Hospice as their focus for fundraising efforts. Tragically, two members of the Girl Talk chapter at Jean Steckle lost their mother to cancer earlier in the school year and this difficult experience was eased thanks to the support offered by Innisfree. A portion of every attendee’s $5.00 admission was donated to help support other families in similar circumstances.

The group also had a chance to hear from Taylor Lindsay-Noel, an inspirational speaker, former gymnast and Olympic hopeful. At 14 years-old, Lindsay-Noel’s dreams of representing Canada on the global stage were cut short after a fall from the high-bar left her a quadriplegic. She spoke about how she struggled with purpose and identity following her injury. “Who am I when I am not in sport?” she asked herself.

Taylor Lindsay-Noel speaks to an enthralled crowd during Girls’ Night In.

Lindsay-Noel never gave up, though. She continued to pursue her dreams and passions, later enrolling at Ryerson University in the Radio and Television Arts program, and now has her own popular podcast and organic tea shop. She showed students that although everyone will go through hardships and challenges in their lives, they will not define you. “You have so much potential,” said Lindsay-Noel. “I cannot wait to hear about all the amazing things you’re going to do with your lives.”

The message and experience weren’t lost on the students, who gave a roaring round of applause for Lindsay-Noel as she finished. Rhyana Eckhardt, a grade 8 student and one of the members of the Girl Talk Empowerment chapter, explained she was pleased to see the audience taking the ideas from the entire evening to heart. For her, that was the purpose of the event. “We wanted to empower girls to be themselves and not care about their body sizes and to just be comfortable with who they are,” said Eckhardt. “You shouldn’t be scared to be yourself.”

Maia Hernandez, another grade 8 member of the Girl Talk group, echoed Eckhardt’s sentiment, adding that it’s important to provide younger girls with role models. She added that this event was the culmination of a successful year of the Girl Talk Empowerment chapter at Jean Steckle. The opportunity to meet with the group and teachers every week allowed them to connect and open up in new ways. “I like it because we never really had anything like this,” said Eckhardt.

Jessica Tilt, a teacher and another staff member of the Girl Talk Empowerment chapter, was so pleased with the number of attendees coming through the door. Laffin and Tilt both mentioned how grateful they were for the support they received throughout the planning process from the principal at Jean Steckle, Andrea Michelutti. “We couldn’t have run this event without her support and guidance along the way,” said Tilt. She added that she was so proud of the work the students put into the evening and impressed by the results she saw as students left. “For these group of girls, it does so much for them,” said Tilt. “To see the smiles that it brought…I think that’s what makes it special.”

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