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Toothpaste plays key role in important life lesson
Margaret Brent Elementary School parent and guidance counselor start program for girls.

 Beth Mowry, 9, (left) and Alex Kennedy, 9, (center) participate in a program called Girl Smarts at Margaret Brent Elementary School that teaches fourth-grade girls about bullying behavior and gives them the tools to deal with it. The session was held earlier this month.
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Date published: 11/8/2011

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

Dianna Flett asks 40-some girls at Margaret Brent Elementary School to squeeze a tube of toothpaste onto a paper plate.

Many smile and giggle as gobs pile onto their plates.

Then comes the hard part. Flett tells the mostly fourth-grade girls to put the toothpaste back in the tubes.

Some try to insert the gooey paste with Popsicle sticks, but they have little luck.

The lesson: Like toothpaste, "once you put words out there, they are out of your mouth and out of your control."

Ugly words make a big mess.

That was the first exercise in a recent anti-bullying seminar conducted by Flett, a parent, and Margaret Brent guidance counselor Laura Hoover. It's part of a "Girl Smarts" program they developed two years ago for the Stafford County school off Mountain View Road.

Girl Smarts includes a series of after-school seminars for fourth- and fifth-grade girls from October through April. School system employees volunteer their help.

Students in both grade levels can take Girl Smarts 101 and learn about communication skills, bullying and values. A Girl Smarts 202 program for fifth-graders delves into more mature topics such as body image.

PROGRAM SET TO EXPAND

Flett, who is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, has four sons. So why start a program just for girls?

"Because I am one," said Flett, former president of Margaret Brent's Parent-Teacher Organization. "When I think about the challenges faced by young women today, they're certainly more complex than what I think I felt when I was growing up."

Flett said she's read that girls receive up to 600 images per day focused on physical beauty.

She and Hoover have written a curriculum guide for Girl Smarts and hope other schools will adopt the program. Conway Elementary School in southern Stafford will launch Girl Smarts with their help in January.

Margaret Brent parent Erika Delarm said both of her daughters have enrolled in Girl Smarts.

"I think more schools should probably do it," she said. "I hope they do something with the boys as well."

Delarm said her fifth-grade daughter, Madison, 10, was reluctant to attend Girl Smarts but has since made friends through the program.

"She definitely has come out of her shell," she said.


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