HUNTINGTON — After a recent in-depth study suggested girls across the country face challenges involving obesity, emotional health and economic conditions that have not improved, the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council is being proactive in its approach to reverse the trend.

“Girl Scouts of Black Diamond is committed to gathering ideas from women across the state who take action in their own communities and workplaces,” said Beth Casey, CEO of Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council, which serves 8,000 girls in 61 counties in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Maryland.

“In these conversations, we can find ways to work toward reversing some of the trends outlined in the ‘State of Girls’ report. We start that process by bringing together teachers, mentors, leaders and anyone who is willing to share their experiences and ideas with us,” Casey said.

Marshall University hosted a discussion Wednesday based on results from the 2017 “State of Girls” study, conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute, during which panelists and attendees made the case for turning conversation into action and thinking critically about what women can do as organizers, mentors and teachers to promote the success and well-being of young girls in the state.

West Virginia ranks 38th out of 50 in the general well-being of school-age girls. The ranking is derived from more than a dozen measures and standards, but is still a striking statistic to most, including each of the five women on Wednesday’s professional panel.

Most notably amid the results, the study showed that only 21 percent of eighth-grade girls in West Virginia are proficient in reading, and only around 30 percent excel in math — two of the largest building blocks for success in higher education.

Feon Smith, an associate professor in Marshall University’s Department of Education, said the lack of academic resources — combined with some parents not knowing how to go out and look at resources for their children — can be combated with education intervention programs such as the Health Sciences & Technology Academy (HSTA).

HSTA is a mentoring program in West Virginia that helps participating high school students enter and succeed in STEM-based undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

“There is a substantial statistical difference in HSTA and non-HSTA students on West Virginia’s standardized test scores in math and reading,” Smith said. “I think that more academic intervention programs like that could help in the education system.”

HSTA opens the doors to student-mentor interactions, something Marshall University School of Pharmacy Dean Gayle Brazeau said is an invaluable experience.

She said it’s important that both men and women understand how to work with mentors of various ages and expertise as a means to gain increased knowledge in specific fields, which could lead them to a future career.

“I would say most of us have had that mentorship. It’s not an easy process, because building these relationships with the mentor requires good skills of knowing how to be prepared, listening, being willing to ask questions and then following through,” Brazeau said. “It’s not just for the mentor, but the mentee as well.”

Brazeau also said that not being able to gain access to financial aid is frequently a major factor in young adults’ decisions to pursue higher education.

“One thing that perhaps the Girl Scouts can consider is to help girls and their parents understand that there are resources out there to assist in financial aid,” Brazeau said. “Often it’s important that a parent or guardian in their support system know that even though the system can be challenging, it can be worth it.”

While mentorship can help increase the well-being of young girls, the “State of Girls” study also shows that student involvement outside of the classroom can have a drastic effect on an individual’s mental and physical health.

“I think being involved in after-school activities helps avoid the isolation that I think a lot of our girls experience in rural areas,” Harvit Group founder Pam Harvit said. “It helps to develop people skills. It helps socialization and friendships, encourages team building, develops leaderships skills, relieves stress and certainly boosts confidence.”

Follow reporter Luke Creasy on Twitter @HDcreasy.

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