Approximately 50 eighth-grade girls attended the first “Girls Dream, Girls Lead” conference at John Hanson Middle School in Waldorf on the morning of Aug. 10.

Tangie Scales, John Hanson Middle’s eighth-grade vice principal, stated, “I try to do programs that are germane to our neighborhood and our issues. So, as the vice principal here for the past three years, I noticed that our girls struggle with relationships with each other. Partially because of social media, the media, and what they see is things like fights on the ‘Bad Girls Club,’ ‘Real Housewives’ or wherever. Negative images like those of how women communicate with each other are not how we really communicate with one another. It’s definitely not how we communicate here at John Hanson. We always help each other.”

Proud of the evidence of positive role models supporting the event, Scales enlisted the help of female volunteers from her personal life, including friends and co-workers with successful careers in the workforce, entrepreneurs and members of the Parent Teacher Organization.

“In real life, we really are a community that helps each other. While we’re helping each other, we continue to bring other people along. They’re the next generation of this, so I want our girls to know that you may sometimes feel like you’re alone, but you’re never alone,” Scales said.

During the conference the girls were challenged with positive affirmations, one-on-one interactions with school representatives, business leaders and community members to counteract some of the scenarios and narratives they are bombarded with on a daily, moment-by-moment basis.

Periodic icebreakers during the conference engaged the eighth-graders with various questions to see what social categories they fell into, based on their likes and dislikes. They were also tasked with decorating a “vision board,” which displayed what their personal aspirations and life goals were.

At the conclusion of the conference, a Reflection and Gallery Walk was made available to any brave Girl Leader who wished to talk about their future aspirations, whether educational, career-oriented or long-term, and life goals.

Jazmyne Ramirez, 13, of Waldorf said, “This conference has been good. I think it’s good for eighth-graders to understand their worth, and that they feel beautiful about themselves and they are that for a reason. They should never bring themselves down because other people are trying to make themselves feel better by putting pressure on them. I think that eighth-graders should also set a good example for seventh- and sixth-graders, but don’t think too hard on it because once you get into high school, you’re going to be the lower grade. Just try to be your best as a role model.”

Jheveya Wright, 13, noted, “I think this conference is very inspiring for us. Especially with the women in business for themselves. I want to be a cosmetologist for my career.”

Marissa Charmec, 13, stated, “I’ve learned that women can do anything they put their minds to and better than anyone tells them. When I go to high school, no matter what the circumstances, I’m good enough, and we’re learning that from the women who are speaking here today.”

“We want to just empower them and for them to feel good about themselves, instead of struggling with their self-identity and self-esteem, because of all the bad media output,” Scales said.