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MODEL program inspires and nurtures students

Friday, December 28, 2018

For Westerville’s middle school girls, the potential for greatness is just a mentor away. The MODEL organization that started out as multiple projects linked to student connectivity has developed into a thriving mentorship and leadership initiative, which is present in three of the city’s four middle school buildings.

Once a month, anywhere between 30 and 50 young women meet for pizza and good conversation. The program, led by Tami Santa, student assistant program facilitator for Westerville City Schools, and Cynthia DeVese, coordinator of minority student achievement for WCS, focuses on building up young women from a variety of angles. Whether they’re discussing high school class schedules and careers or topical political debates, there’s rarely a dull moment with these rising star students.

Intentionally constructed to represent Westerville schools, girls in the program are recommended by their counselors for various reasons. Levels of academic proficiency, socioeconomic status, activity involvement and more are taken into consideration to give cohort members the opportunity to interact with girls that they haven’t met before.

Besides the young women, MODEL mentors are the heartbeat of the organization. From philanthropists and engineers to business women and everything in between, around 20 adult women support the MODEL program by donating an hour of their time each month to spending lunch with middle school girls and investing in mentorship.

“The women that show up for us every month are all in for the groups,” says Santa. “They really provide this kind, loving and awesome perspective for these seventh- and eighth-grade gals.”

Women in STEM

While all monthly meetings are a special event for the young women to make friends, discuss the challenges of growing up and learn from their mentors, there are some days that stand out as being particularly fruitful.

One such event was a celebration of women in STEM that taught girls to celebrate their analytical skills and develop their interests for future careers. The event was timely, as eighth-grade girls were beginning to schedule classes for high school.

Santa and DeVese both believe that education and awareness are the best way to empower young women to take rigorous STEM coursework in high school. Therefore, they’re able take full advantage of college classes and careers in fields they’re passionate about. Rather than students waking up their junior year and realizing they’ve missed a STEM opportunity; the program coordinators developed this event.

A panel was held with young women from a variety of STEM fields, including a high school student, allowing girls to see the immediate benefits of STEM education. Anne Baldwin, WCS’s career and college readiness coordinator, also sat on the panel, giving girls real-life tips on how to pursue their dreams.

After this discussion, the film Hidden Figures was shown. Santa and DeVese wanted to highlight the truth behind the movie: that women can be field pioneers and that individuals of diverse backgrounds and identities can succeed in STEM.

With the success of the program, Santa and DeVese have big plans for this school year’s MODEL STEM event which will be held Jan. 17, 2019.

Preparing for the Future

The MODEL program doesn’t just bring in inspiring adults, but inspiring girls too. Recently, the charity organization Supporting the Girls stopped by to speak; a group was started by local young women when they were in middle school. It aims to provide quality and free bras to women in need including girls of low socioeconomic status attending school, homeless women and survivors of human trafficking. Along with bras, Supporting the Girls works to emotionally support the recipients of their undergarments.

To do this, affirmational messages are handwritten on personalized tags to uplift and inspire. Messages include phrases such as “Let your light shine” and “You are braver than you think.” During their day with the organization, MODEL girls help write many of the tags, teaching them that even the smallest act of kindness can brighten someone’s day.

“What those young ladies did is they had a conversation about how it doesn’t matter how old you are, we can all contribute to our world. They can start things that matter to them as young women,” says DeVese.

By learning the importance of community and caring for each other at such a young age, MODEL participants are being prepared for the challenges of high school and beyond. By learning about themselves, they are empowered to pursue their dream careers, and by learning about others, they contribute to making the world a better place.

“On any given day there’s this really encouraging female empowerment tone and reminder,” Santa says. “For students to hear about the importance of lifting each other up and not pulling each other down, (it’s) important.”

Maggie Ash is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at

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