Cedar Rapids Jefferson club helps girls build self-esteem
Friday, July 13, 2012

The University of Iowa College of Education's 2012 Phyllis A. Yager Diversity Award winners are helping young women develop confidence and handle peer pressure.

Group photo of 2012 Yager diversity award recipients
From left, WISE member Alex McPhail with Robert E. Yager, Mary Swanson, and Melissa Kraft. Photo courtesy of Jill Fishbaugh.

Jefferson High School teachers Melissa Kraft and Mary Swanson began the Women Inspiring Self Esteem (WISE) club for young women in 2011. The club teaches female students at their Cedar Rapids school learn how to overcome bullying, prejudice, and gossip.

“Our end goal is to help these young women grow as individuals and develop a sense of community in a not always welcoming environment,” Swanson says.

The club meets bi-monthly and draws approximately 10 participants. Last year, the group organized a fundraiser for a local women’s shelter and is planning a school-wide “Kindness Day” to take place in the 2012-2013 school year.

WISE member Alex McPhail says the club has introduced her to a new group of people and has encouraged her to think about her role in the school and community.

“Being a leader in our group makes me want to be a leader in our school and do bigger things,” she says.

The Phyllis A. Yager Award comes with a $1,000 stipend to support diversity initiatives or professional development. It is intended to recognize Iowa teachers’ contributions to diversity awareness within their school systems.

Phyllis Yager received a Master of Arts in 1953 and a doctorate in 1983 from the UI. She is the late wife of Science Education Professor Emeritus Robert E. Yager, who also received a Master of Arts in 1953 and a doctorate in 1957 from Iowa. Phyllis Yager devoted her career to advocating multicultural opportunities and gender-affirming activities through her work as a teacher in the Iowa City School District and later as a consultant to the Grant Wood Area Education Agency.