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Girls Talk: Empowering high school girls
Girls Talk participants (back row) Kelsey Bevins, Esther Winslow, Lindsey White, Sam Blanchard, Brittany Porter, Kayla Drapeau, Kourtney Porter, Michelle Hale, Starlee McKenna, Makala Burgess, Jillian Provencher and Marissa Crosby with their empowered mentors from Central Maine Roller Derby (front row) Disultry Hazard, Kitty Shreds, Flogging Polly, Ransom Note (with her mascot Red), Bloodbath McGrath, Mauly Momentum, and Vile Lynn.
REGION -- Girls of all ages are bombarded with messages that they are not wonderful just the way they are. Advertisements and other media are designed to tell them they have to have the right clothes, the right make up, the right body and even the right friends.
Mountain Valley High School has a week-long summer program to help freshmen girls make connections to gain a feeling of empowerment. Girls Talk is in its fourth year and older girls serve as mentors. Participants also interact with women on staff at MVHS and volunteers from the community.
This year’s Girls Talk kicked off with powerful messages about bullying and empowerment from the powerful women of roller derby. Members of Central Maine Roller Derby presented their Skate Not Hate program. In addition to introducing the girls to the full-contact sport of roller derby, several of the members explained through tears and with emotion in their voices about experiences with bullies.
One way the women counteracted the feelings of being bullied was to join roller derby. For many it’s more than a sport, it’s an accepting group of sisters who support each other no matter what.
Flogging Polly (her derby name) told the girls, “We have something called derby love. It means acceptance of everyone in the league. Members have different ages, sizes, and backgrounds but we put our differences aside and play derby. We even share derby love with opponents.”
“Those mean people (bullies) weren’t going to get the best of me,” explained Ransom Note with an emotional crack in her voice and tears. “If you’re being picked on, don’t wait until you’re 30. Don’t let it affect the rest of your life. Tell someone. Support each other. Take action!”
Lauralee Raymond, program assistant for the John T. Gorman Foundation and alumni of MVHS, shared off-skate exercises. She explained the philosophy of Derby Stance – to protect and support each other and to reach out to help others. Another philosophy is “don’t fluff the hustle” meaning give what you do your all!
The girls at Girls Talk heard the messages and learned from it.
Senior Esther Winslow learned from Girls Talk, “Derby Stance: get back up no matter what. Derby Pack: support each other. Be Healthy, Be Strong: speaks for itself.”
Marie Russell, a MVHS alumna and UMF graduate in English and Women and Gender Studies, showed a media literacy video and lead a discussion. In general, participants learned that real life isn’t the same as tv and the movies.
Kayla Drapeau said, “I learned life lessons and that media isn’t always right.”
Brittany Porter added, “I learned that no matter what the media tells you to look like, you don’t have to follow. Just be yourself because you’re perfect the way you are.”
Empowerment also comes from familiarity. One favorite aspect of Girls Talk is “Manhunt.” Manhunt is not a video game rather it is a cross between hide and seek and capture the flag. It is played at night during the “sleep over” and involves getting to know the high school after dark. It helps the freshmen girls become familiar with the school.
For freshman Lindsay White that familiarity is important. “Manhunt was a fun. I found my way around the school and where my locker is.”
Making connections with faculty members and older girls is a way to empowerment.
Freshman Jill Provencher said one highlight was “I got to talk with the upper classmen girls a lot more.”
Those older girls provided advice for succeeding at MVHS and in life.
Winslow advised, “Don’t be afraid to try anything and speak your mind. Don’t exclude people, ask for help, don’t fall behind and try to get involved.”
Porter added, “Do your best and give your all in everything you do. Try and get involved in sports or clubs because there’s so many.”
Her advice extended beyond Girls Talk. “I would also say to everyone at MVHS that you shouldn’t take it for granted because from my experiences and mistakes it’s been some of the best years of my life so far.”
Girls Talk is a combined effort of several MVHS staff members. Library/Media Specialist Mary Gamble co-planned the program with Barb Radmore, program director of Western Foothills Kids Association. English teacher Natalie Simmons and technology teacher Jeff Bailey, along with the students of Room for Improv-ment, led improv activities. Music teacher Mike Prescott and his wife Melissa, who is a derby skater, joined the girls for the finale of skating at Happy Wheels and watching a live derby bout between Calamity Janes and a team from Canada.
Many community members added their expertise to create experiences at Girls Talk. In addition to the speakers, Diane Gallagher, Safe Voices; Terri Parady, Central Maine Roller Derby; and Donna Bucher, Carol Emery and Eliza Cormier of River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition provided resources and support.
“We are lucky this year to have a very generous donation from Franklin Savings Bank,” explained Gamble. “Because of those funds, the girls did not have to pay to skate or to watch the roller derby bout. I appreciate the on-going support from Diane Perry, manager of Franklin Savings Bank.”
Participants in Girls Talk include Sam Blanchard, Kelsey Bevins, Makayla Burgess, Marissa Crosby, Kayla Drapeau, Michelle Hale, Starlee McKenna, Brittany Porter, Jill Provencher, Kourtney Provencher, Stacey Roberts, Lindsay White and Esther Winslow.