U of A Student Empowers Middle School Girls with Innovative Literacy-Based Mentoring Program

Sophia Vincent
Russell Cothren

Sophia Vincent

University of Arkansas graduate student Sophia Vincent had an initial idea for her Honors College thesis. But with a little more development, she grew that seed of an idea into a truly unique literacy-based mentoring program for middle school girls that continues to inspire others.

Sophia, who's currently completing the student internship part of her Master of Arts in Teaching degree at the U of A, selected five aspects of leadership — growth mindset, integrity, resilience, love and loyalty, and strength — to create the acronym GIRLS.

GIRLS: Leaders on the Rise is designed to monitor and boost middle schoolers' confidence, self-concept and leadership skills at a time in their life when those qualities tend to plummet.

Sophia started the five-week program during the 2018-19 school year at McNair Middle School.

She got the idea from leading an empowerment program offered by her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma. Sophia noticed how important it was for young girls to cultivate those GIRLS skills.

The GIRLS program was renewed at McNair this spring semester.

The program started there as an after-school opportunity, so participation was limited to those who could be there at the end of the day. But now they've opened the program to all fifth and sixth-grade students. A Fayetteville Public Education Foundation Grant is helping fund the program. Sophia also received a $1,300 grant from the U of A's Women's Giving Circle.

There are 700 students in the program, so she has her hands full. In addition to delivering the program, Sophia will give the girls and their parents pre- and post-program surveys, code and analyze the girls' weekly self-reflections, and gather feedback from her Kappa sorority sisters who are serving as the middle schoolers' mentors. 

Of course, she's also finishing her student internship, which makes for a seriously full plate.

Sophia has presented her GIRLS research at multiple conferences across the country and would love to see the leadership program implemented at other schools throughout the U.S.

She said there are so many rewarding aspects of GIRLS it's hard to just choose one.

"I have learned and grown so much through this experience," she said. "It has been such an incredible experience getting to promote something I am so passionate about. I loved building relationships with the girls who participated in the program. And, of course, it has been beyond rewarding getting to work with Dr. Angela Elsass as my mentor."

Elsass is a clinical associate professor in the K-6 Teacher Preparation Program at the U of A, specializing in adolescent education. She reviewed lesson plans and attended sessions, but she gave all the credit to Sophia for the curriculum and materials.

This story is part of a series featuring outstanding students in the College of Education and Health Professions.Visit COEHP's online magazine, the Colleague, to see more pictures of Sophia. Visit the Master of Arts in Teaching page for more information about the program.

About the College of Education and Health Professions: The College of Education and Health Professions offers advanced academic degrees as well as professional development opportunities and learning communities in service to the education and health systems of Arkansas and beyond. The college provides the education and experiences for a variety of professional roles, ranging from community mental health counselors to school teachers and leaders. Programs in adult and higher education, along with educational technology and sport management, offer a broad range of options. In addition to education-related opportunities, the college prepares nurses, speech-language pathologists, health educators and administrators, recreation professionals, rehabilitation counselors and human performance researchers.


Shannon G. Magsam, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-3138, magsam@uark.edu


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