A list of rules drawn out in marker is prominently displayed above a circle of young girls huddled together in a small room in the Pasco downtown library.
There are some simple rules: raise your hand, turn off electronics and be on time.
Then there are more challenging rules: keep confidentiality, make good decisions and have a positive attitude.
The group of elementary and middle school students who make up the Girls Circle came up with the rules. Following them is a must in order for the circle to be a safe place for the students to learn about social issues and share confidential information.
The circle, a support group for young girls in the Pasco area, meets weekly to discuss a range of topics, including healthy relationships, bullying and how to be strong women in society. It’s paid for by the local Health District and run by two staff members from Domestic Violence Services in Kennewick.
Conversations are free-flowing, confidential and positive. The girls discuss problems they encounter at school and in their daily life.
“The girls really support each other. We work through solutions to problems,” said Paulina Valdez, who helps lead the circle. “We want them to know as a woman you can become a successful engineer, a police officer or a business woman.”
The group started about a year ago and is getting ready to complete its third session, each averaging 10 weeks. The idea for the evidence-based program came about as the health district looked for ways to reduce teen pregnancy, said Erinn Gailey, program director for Domestic Violence Services.
In order to attend the circle, girls have to live or go to school in Pasco, though Gailey is hopeful the program will expand to other areas soon. The next two sessions are scheduled to start the week after spring break.
One of the sessions is for Ochoa Middle School students, and will be held at the school. The other will be open to the public and will be held at the Pasco library.
As the positive feedback from the girls began to spread, so did the demand to join, Gailey said. Parents from across the Tri-Cities started reaching out to get their girls involved.
“It was pretty stunning in the beginning,” Gailey said. “By the third week we had a waiting list and had to start two groups.”
Dierdre Lanza heard about the group and thought it would help her daughter, Ellahmarie, who was dealing with a bullying issue after recently moving to the area, she said. Ellahmarie would call home sick from school and routinely come home crying.
The group would talk about the highs and lows experienced by the girls during the week. The group also uses role playing, arts and crafts, and music to help talk about different issues.
Lanza said talking with her daughter about her highs and lows has helped the entire family communicate better.
“I’ve noticed she is more open with me, and she is able to express herself with me,” Lanza said.
Parents say Valdez and the other leader of the group, Delia Zambrano, have a big impact on the girls. Gailey describes the duo as perfect leaders because Zambrano is younger and works for the Pasco School District, while Valdez is the nurturing mother of the group.
“They are great role models,” said Maria Zuniga, who has a daughter in the group.
Although much of the time spent in the circle is devoted to working through social issues, the girls also laugh and build friendships. And there is even a time, which all the girls said is their favorite, for snacks.
The girls say that having a confidential place to share information and talk about issues that might be difficult or embarrassing to discuss has helped grow their confidence.
Ana Pacheco, 10, had some attitude problems before she started attending the group, she said. She described herself as “rude,” and said she didn’t care too much about others’ feelings.
Now, after getting to know the girls in the group and learning about how to deal with certain situations, Pacheco said she feels she is a better person.
“We all trust each other,” she said. “You can change your attitude if you are mean or rude.”
Ellahmarie, 9, has learned to combat the bullying since joining the group and now has a support system to share her problems with.
“It’s a group that changes your life,” she said.
To learn more about the group or how to join call 509-735-1295.