'Girl Talk' youth program counters school bullying with mentoring
As a teen Haley Kilpatrick felt the sting of school bullying herself. She started the youth program 'Girl Talk' to stand up to it.
Once a week, the middle-schoolers at the private Atlanta Girls School go to a unique homeroom session where chatter trumps study.Skip to next paragraph
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The get-together is Girl Talk, part of a nonprofit movement where teens besieged daily by the trappings of consumer culture, high-tech gossip gizmos, and "mean girl" mentalities talk to older girls about how to get beyond what seems to them to be a life-and-death drama buzzing around them.
"We mainly talk about cliques and how to deal with mean people," says Jessica Johnson, who joined the Girl Talk program as a middle-schooler and is now one of the leaders at the school. "It's so much better that we talk to them because we're people they can relate to, and they say, 'Oh, you're not centuries older than me; you understand cyberbullying and Facebook.' "
The chat session at the school is one incarnation of a national peer-to-peer mentoring program led by a 23-year-old from Atlanta, Haley Kilpatrick. She has turned a high school revelation and $13,000 of her own cash into a groundbreaking nonprofit group that now reaches 34,000 girls in 43 states and four countries.
The program aims to foster leadership qualities among high school girls at the same time they wield a positive influence on younger, middle school girls.
News reports of the sometimes tragic outcomes of cyberbullying have reinforced the need for answers. Some girls (and boys) live a lonely and unhappy existence in middle school, between the safety of childhood and the freedom of adulthood.
That dynamic became all too clear to Ms. Kilpatrick at age 15, when she was teased and bullied after moving from a public school to the tony Deerfield-Windsor School in Albany, Ga. She started Girl Talk at Deerfield-Windsor in 2002 after watching her younger sister go through many of the same vexations she had faced.
"For middle school girls, everything is an immediate crisis," Kilpatrick says. "So my thought was, if we could help these girls find a meaning and a purpose in middle school, then maybe they wouldn't make bad choices later on."
Since then, Girl Talk has become one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in the country. Girl Talk has received coverage in CosmoGIRL!, Glamour, and Self magazines, and Kilpatrick has appeared on national morning TV shows.
In 2007, Kilpatrick channeled her sense of mission – and, her friends say, her prodigious multitasking skills – into making Girl Talk a full-time nonprofit effort.