We, at Shoeburyness High School, launched our Leading Ladies project in 2011 as a way of addressing the needs of a number of Year 8 girls who seemed to be increasingly focused on the issues that affected only their own narrow world, rather than being able to take a more generous, altruistic view of life. As a result of this restricted, inward-looking approach, in some cases, the girls’ self-esteem or confidence had suffered and needed to be rebuilt.
Working with the local Baptist church’s school chaplaincy team, we pair up specially selected Year 8 girls with mature ladies from the local community, ladies whose ages have ranged from about sixty to an astoundingly spritely ninety years of age. The two groups come together for an hour each week, over six weeks or so. In that time they talk about different aspects of their lives, sharing experiences of growing up in remarkably differing eras. Each week is given over to exploring a different topic, including food, fashion and education, with the ladies being especially imaginative in producing examples of cuisine and clothing from their younger years which the girls can try for themselves.
In the course of their discussions, firm friendships and wonderful relationships develop between the two sets of people, with each learning from - and about - the other. The project culminates in a celebratory tea party, which the girls prepare and then serve to the ladies as a token of their gratitude for all the help given by them.
As we were hoping, the girls all agree that they learn much about a different group of people, beyond their normal scope of experience, and that the project makes them take more account of the needs of others, not just themselves. Our students’ self-esteem takes noticeable steps forward, as they benefit enormously from the experience of having an adult listen attentively and sympathetically to what they have to say. Equally beneficial for the girls is the fact that their misconceptions are challenged and confronted, in an understanding and supportive fashion, by somebody who is not a teacher or a parent but who is, nevertheless, very much a role model. The impact the project has on the girls is very often delightful to see.