Roosevelt MS program gives girls the support to rock

Jacque Weidner turned her life around in middle school thanks to influential teachers, and she now wants to be a mentor for girls at Roosevelt Middle School in Blaine.

A small group of sixth- and seventh-grade girls that now stands at 10 students have hung out for a couple hours after school every Monday to help each other with homework, do fun activities and most importantly be themselves and lift each other’s spirits if anyone had a bad day, according to Weidner, who has 20 years of teaching experience and is in her first year at Roosevelt.

Mariah Seydal (left) helps Hailey Benkowski (right) put frosting on her cake. Both are sixth-grade students at Roosevelt Middle School in Blaine. Beth Nietzel, seventh-grade, is in the background of this photo wearing a “Girls Rock!” shirt. Photo by Eric Hagen

Mariah Seydal (left) helps Hailey Benkowski (right) put frosting on her cake. Both are sixth-grade students at Roosevelt Middle School in Blaine. Beth Nietzel, seventh-grade, is in the background of this photo wearing a “Girls Rock!” shirt. Photo by Eric Hagen

Mya Kriz, a seventh-grade student, told the others that the “Girls Rock!” group is where she feels comfortable acting “girly.”

“When we come here, we can be ourselves,” said sixth-grade student Mariah Seydal.

They have gone bowling, colored Easter eggs, baked and decorated cakes and gone out to eat. They were treated like queens at Famous Dave’s in Coon Rapids. The restaurant paid for their meals and ice cream and they had a wonderful waitress, so they made sure to write a thank you letter.

Some upcoming activities Weidner has in mind for this summer includes a Minnesota Twins game, packing food at Feed My Starving Children in Coon Rapids, a visit to the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park in the Mall of America and a back-to-school supplies shopping day.

Adele Frost, a sixth-grade student, said she would be interested in doing a car wash fund-raiser and visiting the children’s hospital.

“It’s fun. I wanted to help people and make new friends,” said Hailey Benowski, a sixth-grade student.

There are other after school activities and chances to be tutored at Roosevelt Middle School, but “Girls Rock!” serves as a support system for these girls who Weidner wants to see grow into leaders.

Each student has a different family situation. One girl said her mother died. Another girl said her parents are divorced.

Some of the students were already friends when they joined “Girls Rock!” but they have made new friends and thus expanded their support circle, which is what really motivated Weidner to start this group. Gossip is forbidden because they have been victims of hurtful words.

One student chimed in that these students are the only people she trusts if she wants to share personal feelings.

“You can express your feelings here without being judged,” said Beth Neitzel, a seventh-grade student. “Whatever is said here stays in here.”

The social and emotional piece of the “Girls Rock!” after school program is why Assistant Principal Cindy Bennington signed off on the idea. The program’s primary funding source for Weidner’s time and busing the students home is the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s targeted services program, which is meant to help students struggling with math and reading.

However, Weidner said donations have covered all activities costs.

Pentair of Anoka donated $1,000, which so far has been used for “Girls Rock!” t-shirts, baked goods and train tickets to the Twins game in April that was ultimately postponed to May because of snow, according to Weidner. The Minnesota Twins Community Fund donated the game tickets. Weidner’s sister works at General Mills and was able to donate some baked goods.

Weidner tracks the girls’ grades and meets with them to discuss how they can improve these. She has created flash cards, reviewed notes and hosted study parties to prepare students for big tests. Weidner is a special education paraprofessional at Roosevelt Middle School, but is a reading tutor for all students in the school who need the help.

In the short time the “Girls Rock!” program has been in place, Weidner has noticed improvements in grades.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

 
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