Adventure

Adventure

Story by Emily Albrent

Ms. Adventure Girls started out as a free, volunteer based program for middle school girls. But Deb Pattee, an assistant professor of Educational Studies at UW-Eau Claire who started the program, said it is more than just an after-school activity; it is a place for growth.

Pattee said she wanted to create an extension of the original program, Adventure Girls, which was created by two teachers from Eau Claire’s Longfellow Elementary School a few years ago.

Ms. Adventure Girls originally started as a program for disadvantaged girls, or for girls who did not come from the best backgrounds. However, it has since opened up to any and all middle school girls who wish to join, Pattee said.

It is an eight-week program, Pattee said, where Eau Claire students can meet with 14 middle school girls once a week for two hours Wednesdays after school. Those hours can be counted as service-learning hours, which is required by the university.

In addition to meeting on Wednesdays for lessons, the girls will also meet at least once a week to have one-on-one time with their personal mentors. Pattee added that the program combines four themes: teaming, wellness, self-esteem and leadership.

April D’Water, a senior at Eau Claire, said she has cherished her time with one of her mentees called Jordan Walker.

“I just got to know (Walker) really well and her story,” D’Water said. “She reminds me so much of myself when I was younger, so it is really cool getting to just hang out with her.”

For D’Water, the program helps the girls become more accountable for themselves and for their actions, she said.

During the eight-week period, the mentors choose one of the four themes a week and focus a lesson plan and activities around that theme.

Usually they first discuss fitness tips,  whether that be the importance of stretching, or the amount of sugar soda contains, Pattee said. They then focus on one topic, such as bullying, or friendship, she said.

After the two hours are up, the middle school students put together a scrapbook page, Pattee said. And on the final week friends and family are invited to see all that they have learned throughout their time in the program.

Mentor Elsa Kraus, who is also a senior at Eau Claire, said the idea of the program is to have both a community of mentors and middle school students find the interconnections between each other.

“We use the experience from the mentors to lift up and understand the experiences that the middle schoolers are going through and vice versa,” Kraus said.

Mentors can sign up for times when they want to teach or talk about specific ideas with the girls, she said.

Last semester, mentors started to help creating lesson plans, which Patte said she believes it is going over well. She said she appreciates all that her mentors do for her and the program.

Kraus said that everything they do and teach is under a feminist pedagogical style. The lesson plans and the one-on-one mentoring, she said, are designed to make the middle school girls feel better about themselves.

D’Water said that the mentors teach that each girl is an individual and has a voice that can and should be heard.This helps the girls become more accountable for themselves and for
their actions, she said.

“It is very self-empowering,” D’Water said. “It is very much teaching them that they deserve the same as everyone else regardless of gender, or race or class.”

Then, the mentors talk to the girls about the media, specifically about ads in magazines, Kraus said. They bring attention to some of  the misconceptions that magazines are telling girls such as “you can never be too thin or popular,” she said.

For D’Water, many of the girls in the program do not have a role model to look up to, she said.

“Having a college student there that actually cares about you, interested about your future and how you are doing, I feel like that is something any kid would need or benefit from,” D’Water said.

Kraus made a similar point of D’Water and said that she thinks the Ms. Adventure Girls program is incredibly important and needed in todays society.

“It is one of those times when under-reasourced girls are already lacking support and so it’s just a really good time to intervene,” Kraus said.

Pattee specifically enjoys seeing the girls grow from when they start the program to where they end up.

She has seen a girl go from failing a class to getting a passing grade. Another girl started out as a “queen bee” but later progressed to a more balanced, caring individual she said.

“I can’t help but think that I had something to do with that… it is very rewarding,” Pattee said.

Kraus and D’Water both mentioned that this program means very much to them and that both would have loved this type of program as     a kid.

Kraus said that she had a great childhood, but also has had her share of struggles. She said that if she  had a program like Ms. Adventure Girls when she was younger  that  it would have made a big difference growing up.

Ms. Adventure Girls is not just a one way street program, Kraus said. Both the mentors and the middle school girls are rewarded emotionally by the program, she said.

“In general, I think that the mentors realize that, ‘Wow, I have a lot in common with these kids that look different than me,’” Kraus said. “There are a lot of commonalities.”

Kraus mentioned that at the middle school age, issues such as body image, eating disorders and depression are starting to enter into their lives.

“I think that there are a lot of issues, psychological issues that are just starting to form that you can kind of nip in the bud,” Kraus said. “But it is kind of hard to. So just being a supportive role model and being someone that’s like, ‘hey, I’ve been though that, and it’s not too bad on the other side and it does get better.”

Kraus added that to develop more camaraderie between the girls and their mentors as well as provide an educational experience, the Ms. Adventure Girls partake in
inexpensive activities. Activities include going on camping trips where they stay over night, cook out, and go bird watching.

Both Kraus and Pattee said that this is one of their most fond memories of  the program. They love being with the girls and their infectious energy, they said.

Although the program can be a rewarding experience for all of those involved, funding is something that the Ms. Adventure Girls program struggles with,
Pattee said. The programs funding is so low that  they are restricted in what they can do for activities, she said.

For Kraus, there is already a great support from the community, but there needs to be more than that.

“It’s really interesting because people are like, ‘ Oh my god, every middle school should have this, this is so great…’ but it’s like okay, where is the money?” Kraus said. “These things aren’t free and you love what their doing, and you love the impact that they are making, yet you don’t want to fund them.”

However, the organization does not want to start charging the girls, Pattee said, so they are doing everything they can, from writing grants to working at events like the Boy Scouts Air show for extra funds. They want to make sure that these girls have a place where they belong, she said.

Kraus said that they would probably lose many of the girls if they did start asking for money. Currently, they have 14 girls who are attending consistently, and they do not want to see that change, she said.

Once the eight-week curriculum is over, Kraus said, the mentors continue to meet one-on-one with the girls until the college school year is over.

Kraus said that this program was a big part of her college career and she is not liking the idea of having to leave it all behind.

“I love children. I have always loved working with children,” she said. “I love the challenge. I am a really patient person and a strong believer that these girls do know who they are at a young age.”

Both Kraus and D’Water said they would recommend this program to anyone who is thinking of volunteering and fulfilling their service-learning hours with the Ms. Adventure Girls.

D’Water added that all majors should think of being a mentor because anyone and everyone can make a difference.

“If you like hanging out with kids, if you are interested in being that person for someone who may not have somebody like that, totally go after it,” D’Water said.

They all said that Ms. Adventure Girls is a place where young girls become more aware of who they are and who they want to be.

Pattee finished saying that these middle school girls are more than what they seem on the outside and that they are all amazing girls.

“They’re whole people. They are not just students,” she said. “You get to know who they are as individuals.”