Preadolescence – those fragile years around ages 9-13 – can be a very challenging physical and social passage. Even in the most stable, supportive environment, insecurity and a growing sense of independence and individuality can keep students from sharing the hard times. As Little Bit expands into more middle schools and plans to enter our first high school community in 2019, we are developing more creative strategies for identifying the need.
“The idea is to help students feel comfortable in expressing their needs, or even advocating for a friend, and that begins with trust,” says Dana Swanson, Little Bit Program Coordinator. At Marian Middle School, an all-girls faith-based school in the Tower Grove South neighborhood that Little Bit has served since 2007, Swanson proposed employing a parent survey to try and overcome the reluctance of students to speak up, and was surprised by the large response. “We identified many students in need of clothing items and food, and as a result, have doubled our Sunny’s Closet food deliveries and increased overall engagement. I had one young lady ask about pajamas because she was cold at night.”
“Little Bit is able to alleviate these sources of stress and anxiety for our girls,” says Sister Sarah Heger, Principal to 75 5th-8th grade students at Marian. “From shoes and uniforms to trauma-sensitive training for our faculty and staff, they’re there at every level of the hierarchy of student needs, while continually working to build a circle of trust.”
Despite a student population in which more than nine-tenths qualify for free and reduced meals, the school boasts a 97% high school graduation rate among alumnae, the outcome of a rigorous academic program – full of enrichment opportunities and life skills training – and a well-developed graduate-support program. Sr. Heger says, “Our girls are high achievers with incredible potential; you could never guess their personal obstacles. We know that with the right support they can become a force of change in their and others’ lives.”