Overcoming the Girls Confidence Gap with EmpowHER, Oak Knoll’s Signature Middle School Program

Research shows that between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels fall by 30 percent – even as they hit their stride in middle school and begin outperforming boys academically. 

That’s a dramatic shift – and one that Oak Knoll is dedicated to helping our middle school students overcome. 

Here, girls learn to step outside their comfort zones through EmpowHER, Oak Knoll’s signature program designed to help girls build confidence, take risks, and be themselves. 

Through a series of hands-on, interactive activities during the first few days of each school year, as well as programs woven throughout the curriculum, EmpowHER challenges all participants to build resilience and trust, grow as individuals, and bond as a class. 

“I learned that if you are worried, that you don’t need to be because the people here are really uplifting, and they will give you very good advice to help with anything.” – Angeli Garcia ’27

EmpowHER Activities

Workshops have included lessons on the importance of building trust and friendships, how to identify and fix failures, and how to risk plan. (One group activity about taking risks asked students to choose their least favorite activity – dancing, singing, or acting – and perform in front of their peers.) 

“I loved learning that we all shared similar experiences when we tried and failed something.” – Juliette Polking ’27

Program Founders

EmpowHER was developed by Oak Knoll Head of School Jennifer G. Landis and Nicole Johnston, Oak Knoll Upper School History Department Chair, in response to the growing confidence gap in middle school girls. 

What is the Confidence Gap?

Research proves the confidence mindset of girls changes when puberty arrives, and girls’ tendency to ruminate on negative thoughts leads to lower confidence. Add in the influences of social media and other societal messaging, and it’s clear that now more than ever, girls are facing a confidence dilemma. 

During these critical years, girls are not learning the importance of taking risks, failing, and recovering. Lack of confidence follows girls and persists into adulthood, where taking risks is essential for personal and professional growth.

Additional Resources

When I think about the most important, trusted relationships in my life, they all started from a shared experience. This program is unique because all participants – teachers and students – are asked to move out of their comfort zone. The nervousness and excitement students feel is also felt by the teachers.”

– Nicole Johnston, Upper School History Department Chair and Co-Founder of EmpowHER

Learn More about EmpowHER

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