The Young Women Leaders Program, founded in 1997 at the University of Virginia, is a psychoeducational mentoring program that empowers middle school girls to be leaders by combining one-on-one mentoring with targeted group activities for a year to address issues related to girls’ sense of self, scholastic achievement, body image, social aggression, and healthy decision-making.
The program encourages the development of competence, connection and autonomy among participants, has served over 1000 middle school girls and trained over 1000 college women mentors since its inception. YWLP includes girls from a diversity of socio-economic, racial, and academic backgrounds.
Over the past ten years, effective dissemination of the YWLP curriculum has led to new programs at nine additional colleges and universities across the US and in Mozambique.
Research has been an integral component of YWLP since its conception. The research is grounded in a randomized, experimental design and, to date, has examined the experiences of both the college women who serve as mentors and the middle school participants, as well as the perceptions of middle school participants’ parents.
Pre and post program surveys assess academic, social, and emotional adjustment of both the program and control groups. School records are used to assess girls’ academic achievement, school attendance, and disciplinary records. Post program measures of the program group also assess mentors’ and girls’ satisfaction in the program and with their mentoring relationship. Self-reported data from the middle school girls enrolled in the program provide insight into their demographic characteristics, academic performance, self-worth, competence in interpersonal relationships, and perception of support from parents, teachers, and peers (Breidenstine, Charles, & Lawrence 2002; Charles, Lawrence, & Breidenstine, 2002).
Studies on the impact of YWLP on middle school girls have found that it is highly effective. Participants showed a significant, positive change in their sense of their physical appearance and experienced greater global self-worth (Knight, Mahmoodzadegan, & Lawrence, 2000). In addition, more than 70% of the girls who participate in YWLP indicated that being a part of YWLP had changed the way they: 1) dealt with problems at home and at school, 2) supported their friends, 3) made decisions, and 4) thought about themselves and their futures (www.ywlp.virginia.edu/ 2008).
Another study of YWLP participants investigated the correlation between early adolescent girls’ (N = 94) self-reported attachment to their mothers and three components of girls’ mental health: self-worth, body image, and depression. Mothers’ ratings of their daughters’ level of attachment to them were also obtained. (de Blank, Lawrence, and Deutsch, 2006). Analyses of data from the 2005-2007 program years demonstrated that, post-program, girls involved in YWLP had increased family and school self-esteem and reported greater instances of intervening in situations when other youth were being bullied (Deutsch, N.L., Lawrence, E., Capper, M., Markowitz, E., under review).
Currently, we are undertaking a longitudinal evaluation of program outcomes funded by the Department of Education. In addition, an embedded ethnographic study, funded by the W.T. Grant Foundation, is examining the YWLP mentoring groups as developmental settings for girls, examining how the mentoring groups support girls’ competencies, identities, and the development of one-on-one mentoring relationships.