Three Hillside Girls Club members sit on the gym floor sharing a snack and discussion.

After-School Club Teaches Hillside Girls They Are “Beautiful, In Every Single Way”

The WDMCS Board of Education, staff members, and meeting attendees sing the Hillside Girls Club theme song with club members at a Board meeting.

The WDMCS Board of Education, staff members, and meeting attendees sing the Hillside Girls Club theme song with club members at a Board meeting.

Visitors to Hillside Elementary may find themselves part of a sing-along to Christina Aguilera’s 2002 song “Beautiful” if they walk the halls after school on a Tuesday. The hit record is the theme song for Hillside Girls Club, and the club members sing the song at the end of every meeting, swaying in a wide circle with club leaders and guests.

Hillside classroom assistant Rosemary Brandsgard started Hillside Girls Club after noticing girls were experiencing a dramatic decrease in confidence as they reached fifth and sixth grades. They were more hesitant to answer questions in class, reach out to make friends, and stay interested in their classes and extracurricular activities.

Katty Kay, Claire Shipman, and JillEllyn Riley, authors of “The Confidence Code for Girls,” researched the same phenomenon. They worked with YPulse, a youth-focused polling firm, to gauge confidence in girls and boys, surveying more than 1,300 American girls ages 8-18 and their parents.

“We found that between the ages of 8-14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30 percent,” the authors wrote in TIME. “According to our poll, boys do experience some bumps in confidence entering their teens. But at 14, when girls are hitting their low, boys’ confidence is still 27% higher. And the effects are long lasting. For most women, once opened, this confidence gap fails to close.”

A Hillside Girls Club discussion group laughs together during one member's story.

A Hillside Girls Club discussion group laughs together during one member’s story.

Brandsgard decided to create Hillside Girls Club to help close that confidence gap or stop it from ever opening. She leads the club with representatives from the Chrysalis Foundation, a Des Moines-area organization that “invests in the safety, security, education, and economic empowerment of girls and women in our community.” Other group leaders include former Hillside students and Girls Club members.

Club members’ confidence is evident during the games and discussion that open each meeting, with girls organizing the activities and sharing frank stories about their families, friends, and mental and physical wellness. The club also has a guest speaker every week. This year’s speakers included Sam Kemp Carlin, mental health counselor from Iowa Homeless Youth Centers, and Jon Marion, founder of the Inclusive Cultural University.

Brandsgard and her co-leaders wanted to empower the club members, building self-esteem that would prepare them for middle school, high school, and beyond. What they created is a place where girls can talk about their worries, triumphs, and lives without judgment. They not only gain confidence but say they feel safe and well-liked. As each school year ends, Hillside Girls Club graduates members who are prepared for their futures and instilled with the sense that—like the theme song says—they are “beautiful, in every single way.”