The first day of middle school is awkward for most kids. Most adults remember how they felt on that day.
Mary Colby and Wendy Taylor of CASA not only remember, but they are doing something to help the girls of Roswell who are about to enter middle school.
“We’ve named it It’s a Girls Thing,” Colby said. “It’s a free girls camp specifically designed for all girls going into sixth grade. It’s not just for girls in the CASA program. Middle school is a whole new ball game.”
The idea for the camp came from needs expressed in the girls group at CASA.
“We have a group called Girls Circle,” Colby said. “It’s a curriculum for girls from age 12 to 18. We use some of the things that come from the Girls Circle.”
Much like the boy’s program, Leadership, Girls Circle is for kids 12 to 18.
“It’s a 12 week program that we run year round,” Colby said. “If someone is interested we take their number and call them back when it’s time to register for the next one. The girls get really bonded and it wouldn’t be fair to the group or to a new kid to come in after we’d started.”
Each program is unique as they’re based on that group’s needs.
“We work on a variety of topics,” Taylor said, “and there are a lot of different lessons to pull from. I try to steer the lessons to what the group needs at that time. We work on different things like self-esteem, relationships and not just romantic relationships, but relationships with peers, with family and with themselves.”
They don’t shy from controversy, they face reality head-on.
“We do sometimes touch on subjects people might consider taboo,” Taylor said. “We talk about drugs, we talk about sex at times, real life stuff that these kids are encountering on a day-to-day basis. Some people might not think that they have to face this, but they do. We also try to be there for the girls if they need to talk outside of the group.”
It was the girls opening up that inspired the idea of the camp.
“Talking to kids on a daily basis, we thought that we need to do this camp,” Colby said. “We did this several years ago and we weren’t able to do it again until last year. Last year it was a huge success.”
They’re now able to build traditions of support.
“One of the cool things about this year,” Colby said, “is that we have three young ladies who were in camp last year and will now be peer mentors.”
One of the mentors has already started working on this year’s camp.
“One of our mentors has been helping with activities,” Colby said. “I asked her to tell me which activities were lame, and to give me any ideas she had. She did that and she wants to make a pledge for the girls. ‘I will not use my hands for hitting or my words for hurting others. I will use them only for helping.’ How cool is that?”
Last year’s activities helped the girls in important ways.
“We did videos about how to be safe online and how to be safe on social media,” Taylor said. “So many young people fall into the trap of sending a picture to one person and it goes out to 500 people.”
They’ll keep some of last year’s activities, and try some new ones as well.
“We will do activities for the girls to use art and magazines to create who they are,” Colby said, “and another where they express their dreams and hopes. We do activities to develop self-esteem, and positive self-concept, and a healthy body image. We talk about labeling and how it can affect people’s lives in both positive and negative ways.”
The power of social skills is stressed as well.
“We encourage them to be nice and friendly and accepting,” Colby said, “and to realize that everybody is unique.”
One of the foundations for acceptance of others is self-acceptance. They do a lot of work on that.
“We do accepting and affirming our bodies,” Colby said. “We make affirmation boxes which they decorate and everybody puts in something positive about them. They can keep those boxes for when they need to remember their uniqueness.”
Collaboration is another skill they focus on at girls camp.
“The human machine is a teamwork building project,” Colby said. “We came up with different things. One was a TV.”
“As a team they had to become the object,” Taylor said. “They had to work in very close quarters with each other and they had to rely on each other to get these different items done so the rest of the group could tell what they were.”
Colby and Taylor maintain an adjustable structure for the camp as the girls needs can vary.
“One of the first things we talk about at girls camp is what they’re apprehensive about when it comes to middle school,” Colby said. “If there is something that we hadn’t thought about, and isn’t in our lesson we can be flexible.”
Peer support is highly valued.
“They often present a dilemma,” Taylor said, “and the group helps them figure it out, so it’s not just advice from a grown-up, it’s advice from peers.”
Colby and Taylor work to encourage long-term friendships among the girls.
“Some of the girls last year didn’t know anybody,” Taylor said, “so we try to group them up in teams by schools for part of it, so the kids from each school can start the new year off with friends. We anticipate that the girls will stay in touch with each other through the years. Many are maintaining their friendships.”
Judging by the feedback, the camp is fulfilling a real need.
“Parents stop me in the grocery store and tell me how much it did for their daughter,” Colby said. “Last year we could only take 25 girls and we had to turn girls away. We don’t want to have to do that again. This year, we’re hoping to get 40 girls.”
They’ve managed to keep the camp free of charge, and this year they’re getting some help.
“We got a donation from the United Way Women’s Project,” Colby said. “That’s exciting for us because we did it last year without funding.”
They’re taking registration now.
“Registration has already started,” Taylor said. “We still have spaces. All they have to do is call us and give their name and number.”
Once the child’s name is on the list, they can register a half hour before camp starts on the first day.
It’s a Girls Thing Summer Camp for young ladies who are entering sixth grade will meet at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 505 N. Pennsylvania Avenue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 10 to 13.
For more information, to register, call 575-625-0112.
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.