ROX Teaching Important Lessons to Girls in Denair

Submitted by Denair Unified School District:

It’s not easy to be a pre-teen or teen-age girl, especially today. Unique pressures and expectations are felt from many directions – family, friends, classmates and, especially, social media. Many girls struggle with their confidence and self-esteem, finding their authentic voice, girl bullying, unhealthy dating relationships and sexual violence, and lack of strong friendships and support systems.

It’s because of these distinct circumstances facing only girls that ROX – Ruling Our eXperiences – was created.

“ROX is not just a curriculum, it’s a movement,” according to an introductory video on the ROX website.

ROX began in Ohio about a decade ago and has since spread to 400 schools across the country. The Denair Unified School District became just the second district in California to introduce ROX in the spring semester of 2019.

“ROX is a powerful program, not only because of the comprehensive curriculum, but because it provides our girls with excellent mentors who really invest time, energy and care in developing healthy relationships with them,” said Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger.

The program is specially tailored for girls in fifth through 12th grades. It is intended to empower them by teaching them how to handle conflict, create and manage better relationships, and think positively and differently about their futures.

“I love ROX,” said Meredith Wyatt, an education specialist who works with girls at Denair Middle School. “Every girl is unique. This is a difficult time for some of them. ROX is a safe place where they can share their feelings.”

At DMS, Wyatt facilitates the ROX program with Suzie Ramirez, Denair’s director of special education and one of 11 DUSD staff members who have been trained in the curriculum. Wyatt and Ramirez meet each Thursday for an hour with 12 sixth- through eighth-graders who have been identified by teachers as good candidates for ROX.

Across the street at the Denair Charter Academy, counselor Kara Binkley’s ROX group includes eight independent study high school girls. They gather each Tuesday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

“They all have a story,” said Binkley. “They come to our school for different reasons. A lot of girls have had issues building positive relationships with other girls in the past. ROX has lessons to help change that.”

Parents must sign off before each ROX student can participant. Though some of the girls know each other, many are not friends. Other than their age, they don’t always have much in common. They come from varying family situations. Some have siblings; others are only children. Some are campus leaders; others are more reserved.

“What we’re taught during ROX training is that even those with ‘perfect life’ – two parents, a house with a white picket fence, a dog and a brother — they can struggle, too,” Ramirez explained. “Their lives are not always what they seem from the outside.

“Last year, we had one girl with a strong personality. The rest of the girls were concerned about her. Some were scared of her. But by the end of our meetings, they came together. Eventually, she moved and the other girls were sad.”

The curriculum is a series of 20 lessons. Each lesson is intended to build upon the other, but Ramirez said sometimes they’ll explore a particular topic again if it seems to strike a chord with the group. The meetings include discussion, team building and often role playing.

“They ask you not to rush through curriculum,” Ramirez said. “You don’t say, ‘Lesson’s over, we’re moving on.’ We come back and revisit topics. We say this is a good point, we need to cover it.”

For instance, lesson three is about the differences between bullying, being mean, and being assertive or standing up for yourself. It has been an important topic in multiple meetings in both of the DMS groups.

Last spring, when a middle school special education student was being picked on by some classmates, a ROX girl stuck up for him. This year, two of the ROX students from DMS intervened to stop an afterschool fight before it became physical.

“We celebrate successes like that,” Ramirez said.

At DCA, Binkley said many of the most important lessons involve interpersonal communication.

“I’ve asked them to not send a text and instead call the person instead,” Binkley said. “I tell them they must communicate one-on-one rather than hide behind a screen. Even better, I ask them to talk to people face-to-face. Eye-to-eye contact is golden, even if they’re Face timing.”

Responsibly navigating social media – and appreciating the consequences of what they say and how it can be interpreted by others – also is a big deal, Binkley said.

“With these girls, it’s really paying attention to social media and what they’re posting,” she said. “I challenge them, ‘What does that look like and are you proud to represent that to everyone in your life?’ Lots of them have multiple accounts — one they show their mom and one they use with their friends. I ask them, ‘What are you liking? If you see a post of a fight, do you like it? Do you post an emoji?’ ”

One of the neat things ROX encourages is for guest speakers to talk with the students. The idea is for girls to meet positive female role models who are also leaders in their communities. Binkley said last spring, she invited Erin Nelson from Jessica’s House in Turlock. It provides a safe place for children, teens and young adults who are dealing with grief.

“Our very last session of the school year involved a ROX field trip to Jessica’s House so they could experience it first-hand,” Binkley said. “Many girls were inspired to volunteer their time there in the future. It was amazing to see their eyes light up with possibilities of future careers to help others.”

The ROX concept seems to be catching on in California. In early November, three members of the ROX staff from Ohio came to Denair to conduct a training session. There were a dozen people trained – five from Denair, while others came from districts elsewhere in the Central Valley and even the Bay Area.

While in Denair, ROX Executive Director Lisa Hinkelman met with the groups at DMS and DCA. She asked the students to share one positive thing they had learned.

“One of our girls said, ‘I wish ROX was every day,’ ” Ramirez said. “Another girl who is homeless said, ‘The best thing about today is ROX.’ ”

With nearly a dozen staff members now trained, Denair is looking to expand the ROX program to Denair High School and be able to touch the lives of more girls.

“We’ve had girls who have asked to be included,” Wyatt said. “We’ve had parents say, ‘Pick my daughter next time.’ ” Added Binkley: “I would like all the girls to have access to it. From fifth grade on, girls lose confidence. It would be amazing if every sixth-grade girl had the ROX curriculum.”

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