Girls to Women, Women to Girls
Conference gets eighth-graders thinking about the future

Lacey Meador, Aline Tissonnier and Sarah Robinson, eighth-graders at Escalante Middle School examine artist Tracey Belt’s jewelry at the conference./Photo by Jen Reeder

We’ve all heard or uttered the lament, “Kids grow up so fast these days.” But instead of blaming Britney Spears, the Women’s Resource Center hosts a conference devoted to eighth-grade girls called “Girls to Women, Women to Girls.”

The fourth annual conference took place May 10 at Bayfield Elementary, and 269 female students from Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio middle schools, and even one home-schooled student, attended.

“The purpose of the conference is to honor the girls with their transition into high school and becoming women,” said Beth Christie, a WRC Program Manager. “It inspires them to explore their futures.”

The conference begins with a choice of workshops with subjects ranging from Pilates and meditation to laughter with Durango Dot Comedy. This year, there were also seven healthy lifestyle and stress management workshops, the result of feedback from last year’s event.

“How to manage stress – they actually requested that,” Christie said. “Think about it: They’ve had homework since second grade, they have extracurricular sports, it’s a busy social time with friends, some are babysitting or looking at part-time work, and they’re thinking about college. To acknowledge that these girls have a lot on their plate is important.”

Another key element of the conference was a career fair at which female professionals from the local community sit behind desks and answer questions about their fields. The woman behind the placard “Journalist” (who also had a number of Durango Telegraphs prominently displayed) lured girls to her table by interviewing them about the conference. Reactions were mixed.

“Missing school is the good part,” said Escalante Middle School student LuLu Clair.

Fellow Escalante student Amber Wojcik had more enthusiastic praise, saying, “There’s so many different schools together (at the conference) and we’ll be together in high school next year 85 it’s kind of like a beginning place for us to meet.”

Brittany Maxon, a Miller Middle School student, said some parts of the conference seemed like a waste of time because “we already know it,” like a workshop on relationships. But she enjoyed the self-esteem workshop, “Banish Barbie.”

“It’s how to respect yourself and not compare yourself to other people 85 to have a healthy role model, not too skinny,” she explained.

Several students thought the career fair was particularly helpful.

“It does really make you think about your future,” said Leia Evers, of Bayfield Elementary School. “I always wanted to go to college but didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’m getting a lot of ideas.”

Erica Johnson, from Escalante, concurred.

“It helps a lot of girls out in knowing what they want to do – we don’t have that many years left to decide.”

Tracey Belt, a local jewelry artist who makes glass beads, said the girls seemed very interested in her work and asked a lot of questions, which she found “refreshing.”

“It’s good to expose them to a lot of different things,” she said. “You never know what’s going to spark someone. Even if you just reach one girl, it’s worth it.”

Jules Masterjohn, exhibits and program director for the Durango Arts Center, agreed that the career fair is valuable because finding an interest early on can help lead to a career path.

“It’s all about finding what makes your heart sing and pursuing it,” she said.

Masterjohn had large boards on an easel with the header “Art is about expressing yourself” and paintbrushes for the girls to do just that. She tried to encourage all girls, particularly the ones who said, “I can’t draw.”

“Let’s get rid of that,” she declared to them. “It’s all about expressing yourself!”

She said expectations placed on eighth-graders are much heavier than when she was in eighth grade.

“I feel like these kids have all these pressures. It’s a different world than it was 20, 30, 35 years ago,” she laughed.

Peer pressure is another major concern the girls have as they face high school (fear of getting lost on the high school campus was a distant second), so many of the students said they looked forward to the question-and-answer session with the panel of high school girls.

“It’s kind of hard when you’re having an adult tell you about peer pressure,” student Maxon said. “You need someone closer to your age to tell you about it.”

So the girls submitted anonymous questions on a sheet of paper to the high school girls. No adults were allowed in the room so that the answers could be uninhibited.

Mary Jane Carroll, Durango High School panelist, said the girls asked the usual questions about sex, drugs, alcohol and homework.

“I think it was good to just get the truth out,” Carroll said. “It’s a source (of information) that you’re not going to see again – it’s anonymous.”

All in all, more than 100 volunteers made the Girls to Women conference a success, Christie said gratefully. But the highest praise came from an eighth-grader from Bayfield Elementary named Elizabeth Gray.

“I’m just glad that everybody got together to help us,” she said. “You guys are, like, our role models.”







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