Claira Chong can graph hyperbola but couldn’t write a check. Alexandra Scott understood the properties of derivatives and integrals but not how to change a tire.

They realized there was a lot they needed to know that they wouldn’t learn at school.

Alexandra, who’s 17, has a black belt in karate and wanted to start a self-defense class. Talking with Claira, who’s 16, they decided to make it about more than that.

The girls sent surveys to friends, asking what they wished they knew, and enlisted a mentor, attorney Jill Goldsmith.

Claira and Alexandra started EmpowHerX, a group to empower high school girls with real-life skills in self-defense, finance, career preparation, cultural awareness and leadership.

They met virtually for the first time in August with financial adviser Stephanie Ellsworth and then with female experts in nutrition, college admissions and law. Three female entrepreneurs gave the girls advice about how to turn their ideas into businesses.

The group met in person for the first time in February at the Japanese Friendship Garden, where they talked about cultures. Alexandra, who’s half Japanese, taught the girls to introduce themselves in Japanese.

In March, they attended a self-defense class. Even with a black belt, Alexandra learned how to get away if someone grabbed her hair or tried to choke her and to be mindful of her surroundings.

“A lot of these things we’re learning, you come into contact with them when you’re in the moment,” Claira said. “The idea is to prepare high school girls for these things before they happen.”

They hope to learn about automotive care at the female-run Girl Gang Garage in Phoenix.

“The hope is to educate and empower us with knowledge,” Claira said.

The group has grown to 25 members. Claira and Alexandra hope more girls will join. 

Alexandra overcame her shyness to help run the group. She sees the growing confidence in the other girls.

“It gives them the courage to take the chance,” Alexandra said.

Reach Karina Bland at [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KarinaBland. Sign up for her newsletter at

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