“There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish.”
— Michelle Obama
In our roles as Communities In Schools of New Mexico site coordinators at Capital High School, we have the honor of leading a biweekly Girls’ Empowerment Group. Founded by former Communities In Schools site coordinator Heather Sellers, this peer support group was created to empower young women and introduce them to positive women role models from our community who have forged a path to life and career success.
In this group, we support the whole student: their social and emotional health as well as academic and career goals. This whole student approach is especially needed now. Many of the participants in our group, like so many youth in our community, face tremendous personal challenges. They may be experiencing poverty or struggling with their mental health, or be newcomers to our country and experiencing a language barrier and culture shock. And especially since the pandemic, we’ve noticed many girls are struggling with depression.
All of these factors take a toll. The Girls’ Empowerment Group offers participants a safe place to go to be seen and heard and encouraged. They know they are welcome to talk about and share what they’re going through, and in turn feel supported by the other participants. They normalize for each other how important it is to express one’s feelings, and to ask for and get the help one needs. As their sense of safety and trust grows, they are able to truly express themselves and to seek support.
Our guest speakers from the community have inspired these young women to discover how they too can pursue their dreams after high school. These role models are very important, as many members of our group come from cultures where a woman is expected to stay in the home, and pursuing a career is frowned upon. We work hard to counter that messaging and provide real-life examples proving that they can pursue many different paths.
Our students always inspire us. For example, one student was struggling so much with her mental health that she was frequently truant. As we worked with her to support her coming to school regularly, she also agreed to attend the Girls’ Empowerment Group. Today, she’s greatly improved her attendance and is able to pay better attention in her classes. She asks every week if this week is the one that the Girls Empowerment Group is meeting. It’s played a huge role in helping her center herself and stay in school.
Our girls also work to support and empower the wider Capital High community, as well. For example, recently the group decided to hand out inspirational quotes printed on “business cards” to students during class changes to boost morale and share positive thoughts.
At the beginning of the school year when the Girls Empowerment Group started, every girl chose a word to define our work together. Here are some of them: “We are powerful, special, feminine, strong minded, courageous, resilient, inspiring, bubbly, caring, loving, comforting, and self-assured women.” They are all those things, and more.
We are thankful for these young women who have so much to offer the world, and who inspire us each week with their strength and support for each other. This International Women’s Day — celebrated last week — we thank them and honor them for their amazing contributions to their community. We can’t wait to see how they continue to give back, and inspire future girls and women to pursue their dreams.
Maria Gonzales and Erika Reyes Gonzalez are Communities In Schools of New Mexico site coordinators at Capital High School.