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Pink Panthers Program Preparing Tomorrow's Leaders Today

A recently introduced program in the River Rouge School District aims to improve the academic performance of young ladies. The Pink Panthers Program is the product of collaboration between the district's Department of Culture, Health, and Wellness and district leader, and pairs female students with an adult mentor. The program began this school year at Ann Visger Academy and River Rouge STEM Academy and will expand to include the district's two upper-level schools next school year. The Pink Panther Program is for girls in grades 4 through 12 and currently all mentors are female staff members within the schools who volunteer their time with students to be a trusted adult they can turn to when needed. The program's goal is to grow a sense of belonging to the school community and direct the mentees youthful energy into positive outcomes.

Terri Mial is an Executive Consultant for the district and helped create the program. "We really want to begin to prepare these kids to deal with some of the social-emotional issues that they've faced during COVID; we know that they've suffered trauma, but we still want their academics to improve and we feel that by getting them aligned with a mentor and getting them together socially and emotionally will begin to help them through the trauma and also to help increase their academic achievement and performance. This program does that because they always have someone right in the building that they can go to when they have a difficult time," she says. "Eventually we would like to grow the program to mentors outside of the people in the building and bring in some of our community partners, community stakeholders who are interested in impacting kids."

In addition to the adult mentors checking in with their mentees weekly, breakout sessions are held in small groups throughout each month, using a restorative circle format to allow students to develop listening skills, patience, and empathy as they discuss issues of importance to them such as homework, bullying, or personal successes. Mial says the girls currently participating are realizing the benefit of participating in the Pink Panther Program, and are learning and developing social skills, relationship-building, decision-making, and goal-setting. Developing these basic attributes, says Mial, will prepare the young girls to fulfill leadership roles as adults.

On Friday, April 8 the Pink Panthers Spring Luncheon was held at River Rouge STEM Academy. The event included an ice breaker activity titled "My Ideal Friend" and a guest speaker, Fatimah Muhammad, who spoke to the girls about the benefits of physical activity like dancing and its role in minimizing stress and anxiety. Muhammad is the founder of Unfiltered Beauty and Dance and Destress, a mentoring program. Nearly 80 students and mentors were in attendance.

In addition to developing social-emotional skills, students who participate in the Pink Panthers will improve in the areas of self-confidence, hygiene, nutrition, and will also learn healthy coping skills to tackle stress and difficult challenges which they will use their entire lives. As the program expands throughout the district, Mial hopes to see girls develop into successful young ladies.

"We're doing great things in River Rouge," says Mial. "We're innovative, we're creative and we're making sure that everything we do impacts the lives of our students for the better."


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