Women’s Summit Inspires “Girl Smarts” Founder

By Cathy Jett
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Dianna Flett, founder of “Girl Smarts”, an after-school program designed to empower tweens, was one of the lucky individuals selected to attend the White House’s United State of Women summit. You could see why Flett would be invited, her unique program is encouraging 4th and 5th grade girls to develop the self-confidence they need to stay strong and true to themselves.


Dianna Flett rushed to get as close as she could to the White House’s United State of Women summit stage June 13.

The Stafford County founder of Girl Smarts, an after-school program designed to empower tweens, said there were so many powerful people at the three-day event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington that it was overwhelming.

If she looked one way, she could see first lady Michelle Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden. If she looked the other way, she could see Oprah Winfrey, “Scandal” actress Kerry Washington and Lilly Ledbetter, whose lawsuit against Goodyear led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.

“I could just explode,” Flett said over coffee at Starbucks recently. “Each of them had such a strong message of empowerment.

It was almost a culmination, in my lifetime, of what women in the ’60s worked so hard for … and all of a sudden you’re at the first women’s summit. It was pretty spectacular.”

Flett, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, was among the lucky ones selected to attend the summit. About 10,000 applied, but only half were chosen. She credits the fact that she’s ex-military and a small business owner, and is already thinking of ways to incorporate what she learned there into Girl Smarts when it starts up again Aug. 22.

It might be to share the story of 11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer, who spoke about how bee stings and her grandmother’s recipe for flaxseed lemonade inspired her to found Me & the Bees Lemonade when she was just 4 years old.

Or that the federal government’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students and recent graduates to spend a summer or academic year learning less commonly taught languages such as Arabic, Mandarin and Russian in a host country.

Flett is even considering creating a Girl Smart program for younger girls–it’s currently just for fourth- and fifth-graders–after hearing a talk by a brain development expert about the importance of imprinting behavior on children from birth to age 5. The program could give girls the skills to look someone in the eye and give a firm handshake instead of letting her parents introduce her.

“Those small skills help girls navigate situations that might be uncomfortable for them,” she said.

Flett was inspired to start Girl Smarts in 2009 after the eldest of her four sons said that girls he knew in middle school were confused about how to stay strong and true to themselves.

“My number two son said, ‘Mom, you have to do something.’ ”

Flett, who was teaching leadership and management classes for the FBI at the time, decided to adapt some of those lessons for fourth- and fifth-grader girls. She picked those years because studies have shown that a girl’s self-confidence peaks at age 9.

“Ninety percent of fourth- through eighth-graders have reported being victims of bullying,” Flett said. “Seven in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or don’t measure up in some way, including looks, school performance and relationships with family and friends. Seventy-three percent of 8- to 12-year-olds dress and talk like teenagers.”

She added that body image also starts to suffer in the tween years. Many girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their bodies, and any feelings of satisfaction about how their bodies look hits rock bottom between the ages of 12 and 15.

To counteract those grim statistics, Girl Smarts classes help girls learn in a fun, hands-on way such things as how to make a good first impression, how Photoshopped images can influence their impressions of celebrities, and how to set goals and achieve their dreams.

They also come to realize that they’re experiencing the same things as every other girl through such activities as the spider web, Flett said. She or one of her instructors has them sit in a circle and roll a ball of yarn back and forth as they answer such questions as whether they have brothers and sisters, if they ever get jealous of other girls or feel sad when they’re by themselves. If a girl answers “yes,” she holds on to a strand of yarn as it makes its way around the circle.

When they stand up at the end, they realize that they’ve created this web of connections, Flett said.

About 1,000 girls have completed the two-year Girl Smarts program since the first one was held at Conway Elementary School in Stafford seven years ago. It’s now offered at elementary schools in Stafford, Spotsylvania and Prince William counties, and girls who have completed Girl Smarts are invited to come back as mentors.

“Every time you get a girl to step outside of her box, you make the box bigger,” Flett said. “I want these girls to be climbing mountains.”

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Dianna Flett

    June 28, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Thank you for picking up the story of Girl Smarts. To date we have given over 1900 girls in Virginia skills to help them feel stronger and more confidence as they move into their Middle School experience. I’m proud of the women who are coming together under our “Group” to support the development and empowerment of our young girls. They are learning to live in the world and not just on it!

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