Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Together We Can launches at StFX; aims to improve girls’ positive identity

December 13th, 2018
L-r, StFX psychology professor Dr. Kara Thompson (left), StFX education professor Dr. Chris Gilham, registered nurse and NBCC faculty member Stephanie Ruckstuhl, Strait Regional Centre for Education co-ordinator of programs and policy Wanda Fougere and Faye Fraser, Schools Plus Community Outreach worker and former Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre staff member at the StFX launch of Together We Can

Together We Can, a new girls empowerment program, has launched at StFX. 

And on Dec. 5, 2018, project partners gathered on campus to celebrate the milestone, and to look ahead to research work aimed at helping pre-teen girls maintain their self-esteem and self-confidence during a time when research shows their social and emotional health tends to drop. 

Together We Can is the result of a three-year project led by the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) and StFX that focused on the challenges young girls in rural areas face, and the interventions that help improve or maintain positive identity.

Stephanie Ruckstuhl, a registered nurse and NBCC faculty member with the practical nursing and allied health programs, started the program after seeing research which showed the severe drop-off in positive self identity numbers for girls in Canada, between Grade 6 and Grade 9.

Over the past three years, the project used StFX education students and NBCC licensed practical nursing students, as well as staff from the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre (AWRC) to act as peer mentors and deliver workshops to girls in Grade 7 and 8 in schools in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The partners received three years in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to test the effectiveness of the Girls’ Action Foundation's Amplify program, which it used in this project.  

“This is important upstream work because we know nationally that girls’ sense of positive identity significantly drops through adolescence. We also know that girls’ reporting of mental health problems increases in this adolescent range,” said StFX education professor Dr. Chris Gilham, one of the program partners. “The program focuses on strategies and activities aimed to empower young girls and we have strong evidence to show it works, especially for vulnerable, at-risk girls.”

Dr. Gilham says the program is recognized by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, and the Department of Education as an evidenced-based social-emotional program, and that the Strait Regional Centre for Education has taken it up in earnest. He says they would love to see more school boards across the Maritimes pick it up. He says they are starting a roll-out phase where they will mail information to administrators in all Atlantic Canada schools, as well as the majority of schools across the country.

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