Grade 7 girls gathered in the afternoon sun on Wednesday, painting gratitude rocks, applying glittery body art and receiving hand massages.
It was the final section of the Beauty from the Inside Out program, where girls are treated to a day of empowerment; from learning about mental health, to peer pressure and developing healthy habits as they prepare to fully enter high school.
“Initially it was created as a smoking prevention program for 12 to 14-year-old girls and it was an attempt to address a lot of the issues that girls start to experience with tobacco,” said Denise Deschene, the school-based prevention worker, adding that while tobacco use has diminished, vaping has often replaced it.
“Some of the reasons that girls end up trying something that is not really healthy for them, and can be a lifelong bad habit and health concern at an age where they are not able to buy tobacco products, is that their confidence goes down. At Grade 7 or Grade 6 it’s kind of at its peak and then it goes down at the same time that with guys their confidence goes up.
“So today we’ve been talking about mental health, we’ve been talking about relationships, peer helpers have shared their stories and their experience and offered some advice on how to cope with some of the things that are hard about being a teenager and about being a girl.”
Peer helpers from the high school lead most of the activities, drawing from their own experiences.
“We’ve been helping the girls be confident with themselves and understanding what is happening with their bodies,” said Daisy Perry, one of the peer helpers and an MC for the Wednesday session.
“I wanted to be a part of it because I do want to help people, that is something in my life I want to do and I want to be known for, and I thought helping girls is a great thing.”
Ada Klepacz, another peer helper and Perry’s co-MC felt similarly.
“I remember doing this in Grade 7 and I thought I wanted to be a part of this on the giving side, helping them connect with other people and truly understand what it is like to be a girl and to be powerful — it’s not a bad thing.”
Students took part in activities that ranged from mental health to empowering videos.
A complementary program, Strength from Within, runs for Grade 7 boys at the same time at Thompson Rivers University.
“I hope the girls feel a little more confident as they go through high school and I hope they’ve had the opportunity to meet other girls who maybe are just a little bit ahead of them and can know it’s okay to make healthy choices for themselves in their future,” said Deschene.
Judging by the response from some of the Grade 7s, the message seems to have sunk in.
“It’s okay to be yourself,” said Catherine Arthur.
“It’s okay to be girl, before I felt like I had to dress like everyone else to fit in,” added Tatum McKeown.
“I liked how they told girls how they are important too,” said Kaitlin Skuratow.
“That girls can do the same things that boys can do,” said Nyah Cobb.
“Just be yourself and love yourself and you are who you are. Don’t change,” said Marajade Goertz.
“Everyone is beautiful no matter what they look like or how you act,” finished Ella Brodland.