Girls’ education and empowerment

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By: Mabel, a student of K-8 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, University of New Mexico. The United States offers numerous high school and college programs for girls to attend. Additionally, these schools typically have educational centers that can support teachers in helping to provide more culturally safe environments for students. This is especially important when it comes to schools with multiple campuses within different areas of the country. In addition, many elementary schools are now beginning to incorporate inclusive practices into their day-to-day activities, which includes building an environment that helps students to feel included. To help raise awareness about this, I wanted to write about my experience as a young girl at all levels of education, and show how my experiences were impacted by those around me. My story isn’t unlike anyone else’s. However, it took me some time to understand why this happened to me and what was going on with me as I began my schooling years.

When I started school at age 11, I began feeling scared and anxious around the other children in the class. We didn’t really talk, but we made eye contact. At first, I thought there was something wrong with me. It felt like everyone was looking at me like they were staring at me because of something bad. But then it became clear that was just a reaction my mind made up to. When I was 10 years old, my mother noticed that whenever she would smile, her eyes would instantly lock onto mine. She asked me to stop smiling and smiling so much. I said no and told her that it wasn’t normal, and she got upset when I told her that “I’m not doing anything at all.” Once my mom realized I wasn’t trying to be rude and pretend something was okay about it, she let me act more like myself. When my peers began to laugh or call me names, I would shake my head and pretend that nothing was wrong. I couldn’t stand it. So, she tried things like wearing makeup and making people want to hang out with me more. All the while being ashamed of my own behavior and looking down on other kids who were laughing or having fun. They still called me names and never invited me over to play. I kept my distance from them because they would tease me behind my back. That was when things stopped getting better between us. Now that I think about it, my fears and anxieties stemmed from my own fear of social interaction. This only led to a vicious cycle, because if my anxiety were to be overcome my anxiety my anxiety would go through too, which would make my anxiety even worse. What seemed like a bright idea at one time, ended up becoming extremely harmful to both our relationships and mental health. Our relationship was ruined more than it needed to be and my self-esteem plummeted. When my self-esteem dropped so low, I started bullying classmates. Which quickly turned into physical violence. After having been bullied for so long, someone decided to tell me they found my boyfriend in his car seat. So, I drove to his place, put on his shoes, and they kissed for a few minutes. He pushed the door open and began driving away. As he pulled away, he held my hand and asked me: “What are you doing?” I looked confused. He told me that we would go home together to start spending time together. That was the last time we’d see each other. I was embarrassed and angry when he drove off. That night I went to sleep thinking about him. When I did get up to take my shower, I saw him sleeping in his car seat, and I burst out crying. I never thought about it again until one day I heard my mom screaming and saw her standing at the window crying. Her arms were shaking and her face was red as if she was actually experiencing the same thing but being much worse than just being frightened. Then I realized that it was probably the result of something that was affecting her. I ran into my room and sat on the floor with my heart pounding. I thought that maybe her feelings were what caused her feelings. After putting my clothes on, I washed my face and ran downstairs to check on her. She was lying on her bed with blood all over her face and body, crying and asking me to help her. It was too late. I ran to my mom’s house as soon as possible. We walked in close together and hugged and cried together. I was scared to leave when she caught my mother’s attention, but I tried to keep my composure and thank the heavens I got through the event. A week passed, and my mom and I were still crying over the news of what had happened. My mom and I finally broke down and said our goodbyes. Before we knew it, I had lost everything I had once believed in and everything I was used to. That weekend, after returning to school and waiting for her to return from the doctor’s appointment, I met with my mom outside of school in front of my dad. We talked about the fact that it could have been a mistake and just needed more time to get over the trauma. I told her about my mom’s reaction to me when my mom first noticed that I wouldn’t smile or smile anymore. But, I reassured her that I understood and that what could happen next would be fine. I was devastated and I thought that the world would stop turning out to be what it should be but that I didn’t want to live that way anymore. The next week came fast and everyone else had already left for the winter break. That wasn’t something I wanted to deal with, so I continued to cry my eyes out. Most days there would be tears in my eyes. It was scary when I thought about how things were going to be at school this year. The next morning, my mom came over with my little brother and sister. I told them that I was sorry to hear that my mom was crying. They both looked at me and said it doesn’t mean anything. They said we should just try and move on. I wanted to say something but felt like it needed to be done on the phone. I explained to my mom that everything was going to be alright and when I’d finally go back to school, she would be my best friend. She assured me that everyone would be excited to see me. Just like any new student, I arrived on campus at 9 am. Everyone cheered. Everyone hugged and greeted me as if I’d never left. While coming into class, I sat there waiting in anticipation. Finally, I opened the door, looked around, and saw everyone. My mind was flooded with mixed emotions. First of all, looking around the classroom where every student sat up, I was happy to see that there weren’t a lot of surprises around. Secondly, seeing all my friends from fifth-grade clap and hug each other as if they had seen another part of my life was completely surreal. Lastly, seeing that our whole class cheered for me gave me a tiny bit of hope that things will be alright. My teacher at the time taught science, and she was nice enough to introduce me to her during lunch break so she’d know who I was. She called my name and told me that Mrs. V. was my mom and that I knew I looked like my mom, because I got similar hair color as her, but she was beautiful inside. Also, knowing that she knew my parents from all the school events at Christmas also helped. On top of that, as I went through the hallways searching for my mom, our principal greeted me in front of everybody else. I immediately asked permission before she could let me join her. I followed her down the hallway and saw her embracing Mrs. V. She lifted my arm and walked me to the corner of the cafeteria where we sat on our bellies to eat. Not only that, but the entire school stood up and gave me a warm welcome. Being surrounded by such love from everyone helped me to grow and felt loved. Everything came together in one moment and I knew everything was going to be good. There will always be ups and downs. But I can look forward to the future and have faith that it will be worth the wait. Especially right now.

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