Between pressure to be perfect on social media, expectations at home and maintaining relationships at school, there’s plenty for teenage and pre-teen girls to worry about — and that’s not even considering their homework. To help female students boost their self-esteem, stand up for themselves and know their worth, a new program at Denair Unified School District was recently started and is helping girls find their voice.
ROX, or Ruling Our eXperiences, was started in Ohio about a decade ago and is a curriculum tailored for girls in fifth through 12th grades. In spring 2019, DUSD became just the second district in California to introduce the program on their campuses. Currently, there are ROX groups at Denair High School, Denair Middle School and Denair Charter Academy.
From handling conflict to dealing with sexual harassment, the 20-lesson course sees students from diverse backgrounds meet once a week. Participating students are those who have been identified by teachers as good candidates for ROX, and in order to take part their parents must give permission.
“The importance of ROX is that it provides support for girls — whether indirect or direct — so they can accomplish things they never thought they were capable of,” ROX facilitator and DUSD Special Education Director Suzie Ramirez said.
Ramirez is one of 11 DUSD staff members who have been trained in ROX curriculum and facilitates the 10-member junior high group alongside education specialist Meredith Wyatt. On Thursday the junior high group held its last class of the semester, and joyous laughter over Christmas treats quickly died down when the day’s discussion topic came up: sexual harassment.
Some girls shared about unwanted hugs they’ve received, while others scoffed at dirty jokes their male classmates have said. Wyatt and Ramirez talked the girls through the difference between harassment and flirting, and one student was brought to tears when reflecting on the sexual harassment she endured at the hands of a coach she once trusted.
“Feelings are opening up, and they’re starting to realize (sexual harassment) really does happen to girls their age,” Wyatt said. “They were rambunctious today, and then all of a sudden they realized this is serious.”
“They learn about each other and how not to judge a book by its cover,” Ramirez added. “Just because you think someone’s life on the outside is good doesn’t mean anything. They come here and realize, ‘I didn’t know that about her.’”
When ROX girls bring up something Ramirez and Wyatt believe should be talked about with a counselor, they bring it to the office’s attention. In the meantime, often the topics they discuss during the lesson can help students cope and spread knowledge to others, from being assertive and saying “no” to knowing the difference between standing up for oneself and bullying.
“I think ROX beings me more control and spirit in myself,” student Kaitlyn Bailey said. “It makes girls more comfortable in coming out with their worries.”
The group has formed a bond where they feel safe, the girls said, which is just as valuable as the lessons they’ve learned.
“There could be girls out there who are holding everything in and have no one to talk to about it,” student Nesiah Heitchler said. “This helps them let it out instead of hiding it and keeping it inside.”