SHARING WHAT THEY’VE LEARNED: Madison Junior High School’s Girls Leadership Academy teaches girls how to manage their relationships. This week, the girls gave a presentation to Girl Scouts at E. O. Muncie Elementary School. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
SHARING WHAT THEY’VE LEARNED: Madison Junior High School’s Girls Leadership Academy teaches girls how to manage their relationships. This week, the girls gave a presentation to Girl Scouts at E. O. Muncie Elementary School. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
Cliques, rumors, bullies and labels can be difficult for many middle schoolers to handle. But a new club at Madison Junior High School is giving girls a chance to work through some of those problems.

The Girls Leadership Academy is an after-school program focused on building positive relationship skills and fostering leadership in junior high school girls.

The program is led by junior high school counselor Jeanna Carter and is sponsored by the Girl Scouts and the Bethany Circle of King's Daughters. The Girl Scouts also developed the curriculum.

"You don't have to keep a label that someone else puts on you," Carter told a group of students last week.

The Girls Leadership Academy curriculum deals mostly with personal relationships. Carter hopes the class will foster confidence in the girls participating in the club.

Meetings fall under eight different headings: First impressions, navigating friendship, cliques and conflicts, dealing with bullies, peace keeping, improving relationships, taking action and passing lessons forward.

Carter said she was getting reports from parents that a lot of relationship problems were cropping up. Carter realized the school didn't offer a class or after-school activity that addressed those issues directly.

"We were missing a population of our students," Carter said. "To be here you don't have to be an athlete; you don't have to be creative. We're not here to look at your grades."

"Relationship problems really bloom in junior high school," Carter said. "Most of the issues we deal with aren't really bullying. They're relationship problems that can be dealt with if they have the right skills."

During meetings, girls perform skits, watch videos and talk about things they've seen at school. Often they'll discuss things in a group to try to work out the best response.

"If we learn those basic skills earlier, hopefully, when they get to be older, they'll have less issues."

Hadassah Harris is 14 years old and an eighth-grader at the junior high school. She's been attending girls leadership meetings since they began in January.

What she learns in the class helps her with everyday issues, but she thinks she'll be able to apply the lessons later in life as well.

"It helps me with my leadership skills," Hadassah said. "It's teaching me how to stand up and helps me communicate better with people."

Hadassah said that a lot of her friends come to her for advice on tough situations and she's been able to apply lessons learned from the Girls Leadership Academy to help them.

On Tuesday, the girls went to E. O. Muncie Elementary School to share what they've learned with a Girl Scout troop.

"It was their idea to talk to younger girls," Carter said.

The level of passion the group of junior high school girls have helps to feed Carter's excitement for leading the group.

"This lets me work with kids in a different way. So many of them are so enthusiastic to be here, it's exciting to see."

Girls Leadership Academy meetings are set on a rotating schedule so girls involved in other after school activities are able to attend some of the meetings.