MARION CENTER — Ruling Our eXperiences (ROX) is a program “to equip girls with the knowledge and skills needed to live healthy, independent, productive and violence-free lives.”
ROX began in the Marion Center Area School District two years ago and is currently at 10 sixth-grade members each at both Rayne and McCreery elementary schools. The group is planning a career exploration trip to IUP in April.
[PHOTO: Students taking part in McCreery Elementary School’s Ruling Our eXperience (ROX) program are Hailey O’Hara, Caitlin Harkins, Stormy Dunmire, Abby Adams, Emily Busijia, Lauren Miller, Madison Shaffer, Taylor Harper, Bethany Zapach and Anna Pearl Diamond. At front left is Nicole Long, ROX facilitator and McCreery school counselor; kneeling at front left is Lauren Hancock, director of operations of ROX; and at far right is Dr. Lisa Hinkleman, founder of the organization. (Submitted photo/Marion Center Area High School)]
The girls in ROX are given strategies to deal with challenges young girls like themselves face, including healthy relationships, low self-esteem, body issues and keeping themselves safe. There is a lot of research and training that goes into making this program effective and capable of teaching these strategies. The program consists of 20 lessons that address challenges young girls face, such as relational aggression.
“Each lesson is very educational and teaches the girls how to handle issues in a positive way, but it also allows them to share personal experiences with each other,” says guidance counselor and mother Nicole Long, who goes on to describe the lessons as “very powerful.”
Long is happy with the program’s success thus far: “The girls really learn to trust each other. They look out for each other like sisters. It is amazing to see how 10 girls so different from each other become so close through this experience. Even I, as a ROX facilitator, have come to know and love these girls in a different way. We have laughed together and we have also cried together, as we shared different life experiences with each other. There becomes such a strong bond between the girls as they grow throughout the year.”
Several of the girls concurred. “It’s nice to know that you are not the only one going through difficult things in life. It’s also nice to know there are people who you can talk to and who care about you and you don’t have to face situations alone,” one said. “It is a time where we actually can be heard and listened to and we appreciate that so much,” said another.
The girls are also given “ROXwork” to complete at the end of every session for them to reflect on and later share what they have learned.
The program is only open to 10 students at both schools every year, due to the limited funds for the program.
When seeking out interested students this year, 36 students wanted to join. Ten were chosen by random drawing, and, after some decided to drop, others were chosen to take their place. The girls meet one day a week during their lunch and recess periods.
The girls love the program, saying “ROX is the best part of our week — I wish we could have it all year” and “I love being in ROX, I’m so glad we have it at our school.”
Their parents have also praised ROX. “I can definitely see a difference in how my daughter handles her problems since she began ROX,” one said.
“She is much more positive. She never wants to miss ROX … I wish I would have had the opportunity to be in ROX when I was growing up.”
Just two weeks ago, the girls participated in a self-defense training at Rayne Elementary.
They were visited by Dr. Lisa Hinkleman, founder of ROX, who helped lead the training. The girls were taught how to punch and kick in self-defense, be aware of their surroundings and trust their instincts when things don’t feel right.
“Our hope is that they will never have to use these skills, but we want the girls to have them if they are faced with a dangerous or life-threatening situation,” Hinkleman said.
The program began two years ago when Long was approached by a McCreery parent who thought ROX would be a good opportunity for Marion Center students. Long contacted Dr. Michelle Bruno to get herself and fellow guidance counselor Sonya Giufree trained as facilitators.
“We both knew this program would be an exceptional match for our young girls at Marion Center and all of the challenges they face while growing up,” Long said.
“I was inspired to make this program happen in our elementary school because I thought if it could save just one girl’s life one day from a potentially violent situation, then it is worth it.”