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Mayor launches GIRL emPOWERment program

OXFORD, Miss. – Fifth-grade girls at Oxford Intermediate School will soon have an opportunity to cultivate leadership skills, thanks to Mayor Robyn Tannehill.

The program, called GIRL emPOWERment, will accept 16 candidates for a ten-week workshop, where girls can learn leadership skills, communication techniques and build self-confidence through various exercises. Tannehill says parents can expect sign-up forms in their child’s Thursday folders, and the program will be held at the school, once a week during club time.

For Tannehill, the focus of the program is not girls who are already recognized as leaders. Instead, its primary focus is empowering girls who might not have the self-confidence to reach their full potential.

“This program is not about motivating people to be their class president,” Tannehill said. “It’s about forming some real relationships with these kids and motivating them to be leaders, whatever their sphere of influence is.”

In addition to the weekly workshops, girls in the program will also participate in a team building activity at Camp Hopewell, interact with guest speakers and visit the state capitol while legislature is session.

Tannehill says she got the idea for the program from Amy Tate, the governmental liaison for TVA, who implemented a similar program for high school-aged girls at another school. After conducting her own research, Tannehill modified the program to suit the needs of fifth graders and a semester time frame.  

“I have been asked to speak at several events around the state as a female elected official, and I have become keenly aware of how few female elected officials there are,” she said. “Now, you can’t elect people who don’t run, but [women] aren’t being empowered to most of the time.”

In the spirit of empowerment, Tannehill says the program will include hands-on activities to help the girls discover their own version of leadership. One activity planned will have the girls designing personalized magazine covers and examining their positive qualities and what makes them special.

The program is also geared towards forming what Tannehill calls “unlikely relationships” through open discussion and the principles of tolerance.

“We’re going to have some conversations about majority rules and consensus building, as well as choosing tolerance and turning conflict into cooperation,” she said. “People think that tolerance is weakness a lot of times, when in fact, you are being respectful. I want them to learn how to communicate with people they don’t agree with.”

Steven Hurdle, the principal at OIS, says even though the program will be a small group, it could have a school-wide impact.

“By building confidence and leadership capacity, these girls will be able to take what they learn and apply it to relationships beyond their immediate group,” Hurdle said. “Since the mayor and I are committed to [selecting] a diverse group, I also see this program contributing to students deepening their appreciation for each other and their unique racial and cultural perspectives.”

At the end of the program, Tannehill says she wants to help the girls find motivation to pursue things they might not have thought possible. “Thinking outside the box” is a theme that runs throughout the curriculum, and it’s something the mayor says will help girls find their passion, whether it’s tennis, reading, math or the arts.

“We’re hoping to help them think outside the box, just a little bit broader,” she said. “And help them identify what makes their motor run and choose a path accordingly, past what they think they’re ‘supposed’ to do.”