Empowering Hearts & Minds in Elementary School: R.I.S.E. Girls Mentorship

Empowering Hearts & Minds in Elementary School: R.I.S.E. Girls Mentorship

The first WE ARE R.I.S.E. cohort at KIPP Empower Academy

How KIPP Empower Builds Bright Futures through Social-Emotional Learning

“RISE GIRLS R…We are Resilient.
RISE GIRLS I…We are Intelligent.
RISE GIRLS S…We are Successful.
RISE GIRLS E…We are Empowered.”

If you’re walking the hallways at KIPP Empower Academy on a Tuesday afternoon, you’ll probably hear about 45 third and fourth-grade girls proudly chanting their powerful R.I.S.E. girls mantra. 

You’ll also hear the girls bonding and sharing about themselves during intimate “get-to-know-you” sessions. In a recent session, they were asked, “What do you do to recharge your batteries?” Popular responses included talking with friends, coloring, singing, dancing, eating, and sleeping.

In direct alignment with KIPP SoCal’s whole-child approach, WE ARE R.I.S.E. (Resilient, Intelligent, Successful, and Empowered) is a powerful girls' mentorship program founded by former KIPP Empower educator Dr. Ebone Smith-Lenhardt that aims to empower young girls of color by equipping them with social-emotional and development skills to carry throughout their lives. 

Dr. Ebone Smith-Lenhardt (middle, center) with the first WE ARE R.I.S.E. cohort at KIPP Empower Academy

“Mentoring is a wonderful opportunity for adults, educators, community leaders, and older peers to be of support to our youth. At the founding of R.I.S.E., it was important for me to create and cultivate a safe space for our young girls to be and love their true authentic selves, which, to me, is at the core of self-empowerment and positive self-esteem. Through R.I.S.E., my hope is for us to continue to be beacons of light for our young girls,” said Dr. Ebone.  

Since 2017, the program has been based at KIPP Empower and is open to all third and fourth-grade girls. It offers weekly group mentoring sessions focusing on self-esteem, self-awareness, coping skills, and personal health and wellness. Every participant is given free supplies and a copy of the R.I.S.E. program workbook, developed and authored by Dr. Ebone. 

The program also offers a variety of workshops throughout the year focused on their social, emotional, and personal development on topics such as etiquette, goal setting, leadership, and self-advocacy. The program also hosts annual events, including a tea party, backpack drive, holiday drive, and an empowerment weekend session to create powerful and memorable experiences for the girls. 

To join, the girls must complete an application and submit an essay explaining why they wish to participate and what they hope to gain from the experience. Once submitted, the program’s mentors—KIPP Empower counselor Jasmine Baltazar and KIPP Empower educator Breaion King—review the applications and distribute acceptance letters to every girl who completes the application. 

Jasmine, who joined the R.I.S.E. team in 2021, has seen the program grow from 12 girls in 2021 to 45 in 2023 and enjoys seeing the girls get excited about the program and hold themselves accountable to stay in the program. Her favorite part of being a mentor lies in sharing moments of joy and laughter with the girls. 

“All 45 girls in this program are with me for one hour every Tuesday. This is one time when they can relax their shoulders, get a snack, and just be themselves and not have to be told what to do. So many adults are telling them what to do, and this time with me, they can just be in community with each other and get to know each other while showing respect,” said Jasmine.

Because of the program, Jasmine has built deeper, genuine relationships with her students outside of her role as a counselor. She believes her caring, nurturing side stems from her mother and wants to pass along that same level of support to her students. 

“I always want my students to know they’re not alone. They might be going through things outside of school that they may be unable to put into words, but at least in this moment, we are here connecting. The quality time is the biggest hug I can give them,” she said. 

Breaion, who joined the KIPP Empower team in March 2023, was intrigued to work at KIPP because of the network’s focus on providing a caring and nurturing education within a trauma-informed environment. Breaion recalls having a challenging and traumatizing childhood and sees much of herself in her students. 

“I got into education because I feel like I would have been a genius if I had the proper teachers teaching me. A lot of times, I was pushed to the wayside, so I wanted to be the change that I desired. I want to be that teacher for the children who weren't seen and could have done far more if they had a teacher say, ‘Hey, I see you,’” said Breaion.  

Despite being at KIPP Empower for less than a year, she knew she wanted to extend her impact beyond the classroom. Before joining KIPP, Breaion had started a girls' club at her previous school with a mission similar to R.I.S.E., so when she heard about the program from Jasmine, she knew she had to join. 

“I want to help young girls maneuver through the weird parts of life when you’re trying to figure stuff out. Sometimes if you don’t necessarily have a person who knows better in your life, they can’t necessarily teach you what they don’t know. I would like to be that additional person to help support their growth,” she said. 

As the R.I.S.E. mentorship program continues to grow, Jasmine and Breaion are excited about what the future holds. They hope to continue expanding their impact and programming by inviting guest speakers, especially women of color, to share their experiences with the girls. 

Dedicated mentors like Jasmine and Breaion are the everyday heroes in our schools who are committed to providing safe and nurturing environments where students feel supported and can truly be themselves.

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