Delanie Roush joined ROX at a time in her young life when she was stressed and not eyeing the world very positively. Now a Wauseon High School sophomore, her outlook has changed.
“It definitely had a positive impact on my life,” she said. “If I hadn’t been to ROX I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
It’s a sentiment believed to be shared among the 198 female middle school students across Fulton County currently enrolled in ROX – or Ruling Our eXperiences. Designed to empower them and make them stronger women, the national program is now in its fourth year in the county. And its positive impact has impressed participants, their facilitators, and local school districts.
A collaboration between Fulton County Job and Family Services, the county’s health department, and the school districts, ROX is one of two such programs offered to girls locally. Jaime Fogarty, ROX’s county coordinator, said it focuses on issues faced daily by middle school females, such as drama with other girls, handling social media safely, stress, future careers, and self-defense.
The evidence-based program requires the girls to take pre- and post tests about their experience, which map the increasing levels of their skills.
“You can see a gradual climb in the girls that are participating in the program,” Fogarty said. “We feel that confident girls move through life easier and better, and confident girls are more competent girls.”
Referred by their teachers and guidance counselors, the girls generally meet for 30 minutes once a week for a semester. Topics tackled in the sessions include body image, social media, girl drama and bullying, and how to effectively communicate to others and be assertive. About halfway through the semester the girls bring adult mentors to attend a two-hour self-defense session taught by Fogarty.
The sessions at each middle school intentionally blend different groups of girls, such as those partial to either academics, sports or music.
“Not only are they learning these lessons, but also developing a bond with other girls that they otherwise wouldn’t even interact with in school. It also increases their want to go to school because they’re making stronger connections as well,” Fogarty said.
ROX began as a pilot program in the Wauseon school district under the direction of Jessica Gerig, an elementary school guidance counselor. It was initiated in response to statistics on Fulton County’s youth health assessment, which listed 32 percent of girls in the county between grades 6-12 as reporting feelings of hopelessness and sadness longer than two weeks at a time.
Funded locally by the FCJFS, the program is offered in nine states and Guam, and usually focuses on female students in grades 5-12. ROX was founded in 2006 by Dr. Lisa Hinkelman in Columbus, Ohio.
Gerig had heard Dr. Hinkelman speak about girls’ issues, and recognized that the same ones exist in Wauseon’s school district.
“I remember thinking, ‘I want this program for my daughter, her friends, and the girls in our community,’” she said. “ROX isn’t about a program for troubled girls. It helps all girls create their own identity. It’s a place where we can talk and say, ‘These are the things I’m thinking about. These are the things I’m feeling.’”
She added, “It’s about empowering them. This is not a teacher lecture time. It’s a time when they can express their concerns. It’s about offering communication opportunities for them. It also has the largest research backing of any social program in the United States.”
After each session, the girls are given an assignment they can take home and share with their parents. The parents are then surveyed about the impact ROX has on their daughters.
Dr. Hinkelman was a professor at Ohio State University who counseled girls in the community. “I realized the pressures and challenges they were facing were more complex than the adults were acknowledging,” she said. “And there was no comprehensive program for them to learn to relate with others and deal with challenges. I wanted to make a more comprehensive approach to make girls stronger and more confident.”
ROX’s initial results were surprisingly positive, and inspired a transformative moment for Dr. Hinkelman.
“So many girls were saying, ‘This is the one place in school where I can be myself and talk about how I feel, and don’t feel alone because other girls are having the same experiences that I am.’ Growing ROX meant we were giving this opportunity to hundreds or thousands of more girls. They now realize that their voice is valuable.”
Fogarty, who is also a session facilitator, said the program is effective due to the professional women who give their services. Guidance counselors, licensed social workers, and teachers become licensed to facilitate the program throughout the county’s middle schools, managing individual groups but also teaming up.
“The reaction of the girls is, by the middle of it they look at you and say, ‘This is the thing I look forward to the absolute most, and if it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t want to come to school,’” Fogarty said.
“We have a group of youth that are walking around constantly stressed, whether it be with academic issues, family issues, managing friendships or just social media. The pressures that they’re feeling are 100 times greater than when I was their age.”
And those pressures at school don’t subside when they get home. “Now you’re reading about it on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. You’re now getting to see your problems put on a platform for everybody to see,” Fogarty said.
Rachel Kinsman, health education coordinator for the Fulton County Health Department, is a licensed ROX facilitator at Archbold Middle School. She said as the mother of two daughters and as the coach of a girls sports team she sees the struggles girls can endure.
“I support any tools to empower girls and make them strong and live a healthy life,” Kinsman said.
She said it’s fulfilling to watch the girls in ROX come together and realize how similar their lives are. Through their experience in ROX she’d like to see them change the atmosphere of their schools.
“You see small changes, but as this is continuing teaching they can change those dynamics at that school…and how they can use their voices in a positive way,” Kinsman said.
Delanie Roush said the program had a positive impact on her, and equipped her with life lessons she still practices. She said ROX helps girls cope with issues specific to young women, and fosters friendships between girls who might otherwise never cross paths.
“If they’re going through things in life, if they went to ROX it would definitely help them cope,” Roush said. “If some girls are nervous or hesitant to join ROX, they should get out of their comfort zone and try it, because they wouldn’t regret it.”
Fogarty said not every girl may come through the program changed, “but it only takes one person living differently or doing things differently to create a spark that ignites something.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.