COS girls in a circle


Developmental Issues for Girls

Structured as a nine-month after-school program, Circle of Sisters utilizes the unique window of opportunity that early adolescence offers, to shape enduring patterns of healthy behavior.

During early adolescence, creating and sustaining peer relationships is of paramount importance to girls. Circle of Sisters attempts to provide a safe place for girls to interact and create healthy relationships with peers and adult role models. The group is a place where the girls can experiment safely, have a private place to discuss gender specific concerns and issues and adjust to a new physical sense of self. Developmentally, girls are beginning to individuate and push away from their parents. Adolescence is marked by the development of independence and autonomy. It is normal for teens to fluctuate between competing desires for independence and a desire to maintain the safe, supportive and dependent relationship with their parents.

Researched Based Program

In 1999 Circle of Sisters had Constance U. Battle, M.D, a Developmental Pediatrician from Washington, D.C., develop “A Summary of Growth in Adolescent Girls: A Reference and Resource Guide - The Developmental Stages of Body, Mind and Spirit in End of Middle Childhood Ages 10, 11, 12 and Early Adolescence Ages 13, 14.” Developmentally girls experience many different life transitions during middle childhood and early adolescence and it is the goal of the Circle of Sisters program to help girls navigate these developmental stages successfully. The Circle of Sisters curriculum includes specific strategies that reflect this research and instructs program facilitators on how to best meet the girl’s developmental needs.

Dr. Battle’s research indicated that the more support or assets a girl has during these developmental stages, the more likely she is to develop resiliency.

Resiliency is the ability to overcome adverse situations (see program philosophy below for more information on developmental assets and resiliency). This summary of gender specific research has been at the core of the Circle of Sisters program and curriculum development.

program philosophy

The goal of Circle of Sisters is to provide prevention and risk reduction programming which aims to decrease youth violence by providing female youth with an opportunity to maximize their positive developmental assets. The program uses the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets model as a foundation (Search Institute, 1996).

The Search Institute has done extensive research that includes surveys completed by over 250,000 adolescents, males and females, ranging from 6th – 12th grades. Their research found that youth with more positive attitudes and behaviors had acquired the same assets in their lives, regardless of cultural, socioeconomic or geographic factors. Conversely, youth with more negative attitudes and behaviors had fewer of these developmental assets.

The 40 Developmental Assets (Search Institute, 1996) fall into two categories: external assets and internal assets. External assets are provided or influenced by the family, community, schools, peers and organizations. Internal assets are values, qualities or skills that the adolescent personally exhibits. There are four types of assets in each category.

External Assets: Internal Assets:

-Boundaries and Expectations
-Constructive Use of Time

-Commitment to learning
-Positive values
-Social competencies
-Positive identity

Assets are strongly related to youth behavioral choices. As the number of assets increase, so does school success and community service and involvement. With the increase in assets, there is a marked increase in a young person’s ability to be resilient and a decrease in negative high-risk behaviors; such as alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use, sexual activity, violence and anti-social behavior.

Circle of Sisters provides participants with the opportunity to develop internal and external assets through specific program activities. The program is structured to develop in girls the essential life skills, values, experiences, resources and support that will enable them to make positive present and future life choices.