A place for girls to learn, grow in Mukilteo

Anne Windsor has two little girls. They’re 5 and 6. As a parent, she hasn’t yet dealt with adolescence. As a Kamiak High School teacher, she gets an up-close look at the lives of teenage girls.

It also helps that the 45-year-old teacher was once a teenage girl herself.

With a master’s degree in psychology from Seattle University and years of experience working with teens, Windsor has just launched Your Place Afterschool.

The nonprofit program will offer social support, academic help, community involvement and college preparation for girls ages 14 to 18. Its location on Mukilteo Speedway, not far from Kamiak High, will give a girl a place to go, and to talk about everything from the minutiae of her day to the wide-open possibilities of her future.

Along with homework time, tutoring, preparation for college-entrance exams and a book club, Windsor plans freewheeling talk sessions she calls “homecourt.” It’s a time to discuss issues that loom large in girls’ lives — body image, relationships, media portrayals of young women and career goals.

Girls will have a place each day to open up about “what it’s like to be an adolescent female,” Windsor said. “There are no grades, so there won’t be all that pressure.”

The mission at the heart of it all: To help a girl find herself.

“If they haven’t heard their own voice, they may turn 40 and think, ‘Here I am,’ but they’ll wonder who they are,” Windsor said. “They’re preparing for this adult life, and they want guidance. Television can raise our kids, or we can become the voice they hear.”

In 17 years of teaching interpersonal relationships and consumer sciences in the Mukilteo School District, Windsor has seen girls with great potential left untapped.

“All the schools provide clubs and sports,” Windsor said. “For whatever reasons, some girls don’t join a club or play a sport. For a girl who wants to do more, an after-school program works.”

She’s heard teens say they wish their parents would spend more time with them. Many go home to empty houses. Although mature enough to stay safely at home after school, some teens aren’t well served by isolation, Windsor said.

The program’s fee is $2,500 per year, or $250 a month, and scholarships are available. The cost is about what many parents, this one included, pay for younger children’s after-school care. Your Place Afterschool is offering a free visitation week Nov. 5 through 9.

Several girls are signed up, and Windsor said there’s room for about 35 at its current site, which has several rooms. There’s a study lounge, small library and a row of computers.

In her career, Windsor has witnessed what author and psychotherapist Mary Pipher described in her 1995 bestseller “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.”

Girls, Windsor said, are more likely than boys to experience depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders. Confident in childhood, some girls are stymied by society’s images and expectations when adolescence hits. They may suffer personally and academically.

In staying true to who they are, Windsor believes girls can build better futures.

Growing up in South Dakota, Windsor was involved in 4-H and active in sports. “I wanted to do a little more,” she said.

“I would love to have been part of something like this,” Windsor said.

I would gladly have joined her.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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