How Gravitas for Girls Began
In 2003, a mother from Staten Island, NY called me. I didn’t know the woman. She told me that her daughter was very nervous when she had to stand up and speak in class. The woman asked if I could help her daughter feel more confident.
I told her that although I had been a Speech Pathologist for 10 years in the New York City schools, I no longer worked with children. My consulting business focused on corporate executives.
I suggested some non-profit organizations. She told me they didn’t offer help for teens. This mother was so persistent that I finally relented. I told her, “Fine. If you can get 10 girls together I’ll do it for the community.”
To my surprise, she was able to rally other parents and Confidence Class was born. I realized that this was an unmet need. The schools were not doing an adequate job of preparing students to present themselves to be confident public speakers. Yes, there was some opportunity to give a speech, but they really weren’t being trained how to speak effectively. I realized that we needed to start teaching confident communication much earlier. The middle school years are a turning point for girls and it’s a time when they truly need to learn self-confidence and self-esteem.
We met in the mother’s house and for eight weeks the 10 seventh grade girls learned the skills of confident speaking. Each Saturday morning, students learned what confidence looks like, sounds like, and how to speak the language of confidence. We created a fun, safe environment and each student was videotaped. They learned how to make an entrance, how to command a room, how to connect with the audience, how to finish on time, and how to project confidence. After the class, the girls would stay and the mothers would bring in bagels for breakfast.
The girls learned to give balanced feedback to each other and they were as good as my adult participants. Their presentations improved and their confidence grew. They were supportive of one another and the learning transferred to their school room. When one girl stood up in class, her classmates pointed to her crossed ankles, a signal which meant to stand up straight. A few months after the Confidence Class was completed, the mother sent me a thank you email.