Teen girls take lessons from self-esteem workshops

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., May. 11, 2011
Participants in the recent workshops created two 'pinch-pots' from clay - one simply, and one with obstacles. Photos by Steve Smith.
Participants in the recent workshops created two 'pinch-pots' from clay - one simply, and one with obstacles. Photos by Steve Smith.

On May 6, a group of 60 students from Smith Middle School took part in the second annual Young Women's Forum, which is focused on building self-esteem and confidence and developing positive decision-making and interpersonal skills.

The forum is presented through a collaboration of the Glastonbury Police Department's Youth Unit, Smith Middle School and Glastonbury Youth and Family Services, and made possible in part by a mini-grant from Glastonbury schools' PTSO.

The participants spent the day at Goodwin College in East Hartford, and took part in three workshops.

One of the workshops, called “The Roller Coaster Ride from Middle to High,” was hosted by Glastonbury High School sophomores Kristen Dragotta and Ellie Woodard, and dealt with a broad range of issues.

GPD Youth Unit Officer Allison Collard said the idea to have other teens leading the workshops, as opposed to adults, was a good element to the day.

“They’ve lived the middle school experience more recently,” Collard said. “Middle-schoolers automatically connect with, and look up to, the high school girls. We had phenomenal role models today.”

The workshop participants watched a clip from the movie “Mean Girls,” which was used as a jumping-off point for discussions on friendships, peer pressure, labels and cliques.

“Do you think they're showing good friendship qualities?” was one of the questions Woodard asked the group.

The participants then had to write down a negative personal experience from the past few years on a piece of paper. After anonymously turning them in, each one was read. The same was done for positive experiences.

For each bit of negativity, a piece was removed from a ball of clay, which was affectionately named, and for each positive experience, the piece was re-attached, but didn't quite look the same.

Dragotta and Woodard said they had taken part in planning sessions with the advisors, and had notes, but when responding to the younger girls' comments or concerns, a lot of what they drew from was things they'd learned at the same age.

“The ideas and the advice was kind of on the spot,” Woodard said, “from our own experiences.”

“It was how we felt in seventh grade,” Dragotta said. “I think they took everything into account and got the message. At this age, everyone's so insecure. To feel like we helped keep everyone on the same path is good.”

“I hope we got it across,” Woodard said, “or at least some things hit home. I feel like I was in what some of them are going through. I wish I had been in something like this when I was in middle school. Some of them think it's going to be like this forever, and it's not.”

“I think it was good that it was all about them,” said Dragotta. “It wasn't like a lecture. They got involved. A few of them stayed after the workshop and talked with us, which I thought was really good. They said it really helped them.”

Both Dragotta and Woodard said they would gladly help again.

In one of the workshops, art teachers Kelly Murphy and Marissa Copley led the girls through creating small “pinch-pots” out of clay. Then, the girls had to make a second pot, but this time the clay was wrapped in yarn, which made it difficult. They also had to close their eyes.

Murphy said the exercise is called “Wabi-Sabi,” a Japanese theory of art, beauty of landscaping that says there is always beauty in the imperfect.

“The idea is that they keep making it,” Murphy said, “considering that each obstacle is just a challenge – something that you have to work through – and it might not look like the first one, it's just different.”

“The purpose of that was that it may not be perfect, but it's still beautiful, because, really, none of us are perfect,” Collard said.

“Everything we talked about had symbolic meaning for them to reflect on,” Murphy said, “about life – about decisions they make. We didn't talk about what's going on in their lives. They were allowed to just internally find the symbolism.”

Collard said the goal was to have the day be more interactive than in the past.

“We wanted the girls to be more involved, with hands-on activities,” Collard said, “and to try to drive home the message of accepting themselves for who they are. We try to give them the tools to make healthy choices.”

The advisors said the day ran smoothly, and the venue was ideal.

“I think it went really well,” Murphy said. “I think the kids enjoyed themselves, being in a different type of learning environment, with a peer group that's more relatable to their own. Girls at this age worry about other things. It's nice to have that stress taken away.”

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