FleishmanHillard Helps ‘Educate Girls for Life’
On the second day of my Fall 2018 intern orientation, a group of counselors from the St. Louis office discussed various ways that we could immerse ourselves in FleishmanHillard’s culture. One option was becoming involved with FH4Inclusion initiatives, and I was drawn to our partnership with Marian Middle School.
This Catholic all-girls school serves lower-income students from 26 zip codes around the St. Louis Metro. Its mission: educating its students for life. Marian focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty by developing students spiritually, socially, morally, emotionally and academically. Many of the girls enter at least a grade-level behind, but Marian works to ensure their success while at the school and well beyond. In fact, 96 percent of Marian alumnae have graduated from high school and 82 percent have enrolled in post-secondary programs to further their education and kick-start their careers.
Learning about this school and its students made me reflect on my own middle school years. I remembered the awkwardness, uncertainty and anxiety I faced each day as I longed to express my newly acquired independence, but lacked the confidence to do so. Middle school is especially tough for girls. As they struggle with self-esteem, peer pressure and external stresses, 7 in 10 girls feel they aren’t good enough or don’t measure up to their peers in some way. And those external pressures are that much more difficult for girls whose families fall below the poverty line.
As I thought about all that, it hit me. This was a chance for me to be the person I needed when I was their age. So I signed up to join this FH4Inclusion team. And I’m glad I did.
Marian Middle School’s education model is life-altering for these students at a critical point in their lives. The school places an emphasis on preparing students for the next step in their education, and that’s where our partnership comes into play. Upon graduation, many Marian students choose to attend high schools with strong college preparatory programs – schools that put candidates through an extensive interview process. Our team’s focus was to help them prepare for their high school interviews, but to also work generally on building their self-confidence and how they present themselves. We led monthly interactive sessions with a class of 17 seventh graders, teaching them about personal branding, body language, how to present themselves on social media and ultimately providing them with the resources to develop and deliver elevator pitches about who they are.
For our last session of the school year, we hosted the students in our office. Many of the girls had never been exposed to the communications field, or even a professional office setting. After giving them a tour, we shared some of our client work. By the end of the visit, one student actually asked me, “How old do I have to be to work here?”
Middle school is tough, and these girls’ environmental situations make it even more challenging. But I saw such drive, resilience and excitement in them each time we met; they left me inspired after each session. I really believe in these students and the work Marian Middle School does every day. Each session was about showing these girls that diverse women can take charge of their lives and choose a career that aligns with their interests and empowers them to be their true selves. This serves as an important daily reminder for me, too.
I hope this program made an impression on these students. They certainly made an impression on me. I wish them success in their school and professional careers, and hope to one day down the road see them again, perhaps as colleagues in the office they once toured in 2019 as students.
Alyssa Potter is a member of the Agency Marketing team in our St. Louis headquarters.