Published May 31, 2023
BY RILEY PALSHAW
In hopes of empowering female students and creating a safe space to discuss important life skills, Carmel River Elementary School counselor Veronica Craft introduced a 20-week intensive program this year called Ruling Our Experiences to campus, a curriculum that tackles topics like self love, setting healthy boundaries, career exploration and self-defense.
Ruling Our Experiences, or ROX, is an “evidence-based program” for girls in fifth through twelfth grade that is implemented in schools nationwide, but in Monterey County, Craft is the first to administer it. As an inaugural member of the Dr. Patty’s Diversity Fellowship, which funds the ROX program exclusively for women of color who value working with and educating girls, Craft’s first two years teaching this program are entirely on scholarship, meaning the girls chosen to participate don’t have to cover the fee associated with ROX.
At the beginning of the school year, 10 diverse fifth grade girls were selected to participate, and since the start of the program this winter, Craft has met with the students almost every Tuesday and Friday to teach lessons and grow stronger as a batch.
“What I’ve seen working with girls is that they really need it,” the River School counselor says. “I wish that I could offer it to all of our fifth grade girls. I feel like there’s a really big need.”
Learning about everything from different communication styles to body image and goal setting, these students are hopefully gaining knowledge they can carry with them throughout their lives.
“The group of girls that are participating are not exactly girls that would hang out with each other outside of the classroom,” Craft says, “but when they come in, they are having the most amazing time and sharing experiences with each other.”
After witnessing success in the program’s first year, Craft hopes to expand ROX to Tularcitos Elementary School and Captain Cooper Elementary School as well, and eventually to Carmel Middle School and Carmel High School since ROX can be taught up until senior year. And while it would be enough of an accomplishment to have ROX at all of those sites, this school counselor’s long term goal is to collaborate with neighboring school districts so the program can expand throughout the Monterey Peninsula.
With training to become a ROX facilitator open to not only school counselors but classroom teachers and school
psychologists too, the goal would be for every school in Monterey County to have a facilitator, but for now, Craft’s main focus is her group of 10 girls and the few lessons they have left to cover before the school year wraps up.
Despite having to adjust the plan for the remainder of the year because of sessions canceled due to weather conditions, River School’s ROX participants are coming out of this stronger and braver than Craft has ever seen them before.
“Even if we don’t finish the 20 weeks this year because of all the unexpected cancellations,” Craft explains, “just what they’ve gotten already from getting to know each other and trust each other was totally worth it.”