DOWNERS GROVE – Hundreds of young girls will gather Feb. 24 at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove for the 13th annual Chick Chat program.
Sponsored by Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence, the daylong event gives girls in grades 4 through 6 an opportunity to participate in workshops designed to help them develop their own unique sense of self, said Mary Ellen Young, founder of the organization.
Girls also will spend part of the day participating in yoga and team-building activities, as well as games and crafts.
The program offers important skills to girls who are beginning to navigate a variety of new challenges, including bullying and fitting into social groups, Young said.
Some girls endure taunts and harassment, and the Chick Chat curriculum is designed to help them combat it.
“For some, school can be a miserable experience,” Young said.
Herrick Middle School always serves as the home for the program that will draw about 350 girls this year. The inaugural Chick Chat attracted about 60 girls.
“We take up every square inch of Herrick,” Young said.
Girls are broken up into small grade-level groups, and they stay with that group throughout the six-hour program. They cover a wide range of material, including empathy, conflict resolution, self-management, emotional awareness and healthy relationship skills.
The small groups are comprised of girls from different schools, giving them the opportunity to meet new friends and feel comfortable talking about sensitive subjects away from their classmates.
“We mix them up,” Young said. “It allows them to open up. They’re making friends.”
The strategy works, too. By the end of the day, the girls are busy signing each other's Chick Chat T-shirts.
The program is offered to girls who have reached an age where they're beginning to make decisions for themselves.
“Fourth, fifth and sixth grade really is the sweet spot for this,” Young said. “At this stage in their life, they are just beginning to make decisions about who they want to be friends with.”
Chick Chat helps girls make those decisions and cope with the end of friendships. The need to fit into social groups is important for adolescent girls, and changing friend groups can be a tough transition, Young said.
“If you are being left behind, there’s a whole new world out there for you,” she said.
The breakout sessions and activities are run by individuals with backgrounds in education, therapy and counseling. A large group of volunteers, including girls who've participated in the program, also pitch in.
“We want people who are skilled,” Young said.
A key focus of Chick Chat is helping girls develop a sense of self, she said.
“We really talk to kids about who they want to be,” Young said. “It’s hard to be yourself. How you feel about yourself can really plummet in seventh and eighth grade. We try to jump in before then with some prevention."
The program offers something for parents as well.
Mom and Dad Chat will be from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Herrick cafertorium. Cathy Cassani Adams, a radio host, author and therapist, will be the guest speaker. She will discuss why self-awareness and mindfulness are the keys to healthy relationships with daughters.