Victoria Beeber helps fifth-grader Willow Mossberg with her speech. Photo: Krisa Bruemmer, KP News

The growing 80-girl program, modeled after Toastmasters International, is offered at all elementary schools in the Peninsula School District.

Little Toasters is about far more than public speaking practice and leadership skills. It is a place where young girls are able to boost their confidence level, discuss emotions and work towards personal goals. Teachers and counselors recommend third through fifth grade girls for the Children’s Home Society of Washington-sponsored after-school program, and students in the group invite siblings and friends to join.

“One of the reasons I joined was because I saw there was free lollipops,” said fourth-grader Isabella Ruiz, who goes by Bella. “But this also did help me a lot. I used to have a lot of stage fright.

“You can share anything you’re feeling. If you’re feeling really sad you can share to the people here,” she said, looking serious despite her cheetah print cat ears and big pink bows.

The Vaughn Elementary School library hummed with energy Dec. 5 as nine Little Toasters discussed their “high and low” for the day.

The group is silly and fun. There are unicorns, rainbows, glittery polka dots, and light-up sneakers. There are giggles. There is also invaluable work being done.

“I auditioned for a solo,” Bella said, smiling wide as she shared her high for the day. “Little Toasters has definitely made me less nervous because last year I auditioned for a third-grade concert solo and I didn’t get the part. But I was pretty nervous. This year I wasn’t as nervous.”

“My high is that I got to play in the dirt today,” said third-grader Georgia Madrid. “My low is that my finger hurts.”

Other highs included an upcoming sleepover, a joke that made everyone laugh, a good book and excitement for the weekend. Broken headphones, spilled water, miscommunication and a scheduled flu shot were among the lows. When math homework came up, some girls insisted, “That’s a high!” while others frowned and said, “Not for me.”

One girl said, “Oh no! My brain’s losing it!” when she forgot what she wanted to say.

The group facilitator, Victoria Beeber, reminded the girls not to talk over each other, to remain seated and to keep their eyes on the speaker.

“After school it can be really hard for them to get out of class and just come and sit down and need to focus again,” Beeber said. “I try to make it as fun as possible to keep them engaged, but sometimes it’s just really, really hard to sit down and I recognize that.”

“This is a crucial part of the program because it visualizes that girls truly can do anything they want because an example is in front of them.”

Following “Highs and Lows,” the girls spent 10 minutes writing speeches about their dream job. Some moved to far corners of the library to write. Others stayed at the main table where Beeber helped with spelling and ideas.

Some speeches were filled with theatrical noises and gestures. Some girls were more soft-spoken, enunciating each word carefully or rushing through to the finish. There were two veterinarians, two bakers, a teacher, a hairstylist, an architect, a police officer, a singer and a soldier.

“I love baking,” Georgia said. “It’s just like finding the song in your soul.”

Every girl received a sticker and a round of applause.

“What I get out of Little Toasters is like, standing in front of a crowd, talking to people, not getting sick or pretty much petrified,” said fifth-grader Ella Youngchild.

“A major success story is my Big Buddy, Teagan Nastansky,” Beeber said, referring to her group’s mentor, a former Little Toaster who now attends Key Peninsula Middle School and participates in the Big Buddy program.

“Teagan was super shy when I first met her,” Beeber said. “She has worked really hard and made so much progress. She’s constantly encouraging the current group of Little Toasters and letting them know that even though it seems hard now, it does get easier.”

“It’s easier for me to speak in big groups and talk to teachers and be more confident in my work,” Teagan said. “I didn’t use to go up in front of the class because I was too scared, but now I’m more confident doing that.”

Gina Cabiddu, community manager for CHSW, said she hopes to recruit more Big Buddies. Her goals for the program also include having more female guest speakers talk about their experiences, particularly women working in male-dominated fields.

“This is a crucial part of the program because it visualizes that girls truly can do anything they want because an example is in front of them,” Cabiddu said. “Prior guests have included legislators, doctors, pilots, vice presidents of Fortune 500 companies, park rangers and more.”

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