Merced middle school girls on Thursday celebrated all they overcame in a summer program called Lift While You Lead, which partnered the girls with UC Merced mentors and taught them lessons on body image, stereotypes and leadership qualities.
The soon-to-be-eighth-graders, in front of their families and new friends, spoke about their experiences and received certificates for completing the four-week program at UC Merced.
The program included field trips to California State University, Monterey Bay, and the Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch. Many girls said their experience with the zip lines taught them to overcome their fears and try new things. They also participated in emotional discussions on body image, bullying, building healthy relationships and leadership.
“We learned lessons that can’t be found in a textbook,” Hlee Xiong said. “Like Ms. Delgado said, girls compete against each other, but young women and women empower each other.”
Never miss a local story.
I learned to take a chance. You’ll never know if you don’t try.
Melissa Rivera Vega, student participant in Lift While You Lead
Annie Delgado, who teaches women’s studies at Golden Valley High School, leads the program. Girls with leadership potential are chosen from Tenaya, Hoover and Cruickshank middle schools to participate in the program. Delgado checks in with them each week and monitors their grades, attendance and any discipline issues during eighth grade and when they move on to Golden Valley High School.
“We see a change in their dialogue about where they see themselves in five years,” Delgado said. “They start talking about the problems in the world they want to solve.”
Older girls from Golden Valley High and UC Merced served as mentors in the program voluntarily.
“For most of them, they had somebody important in their lives who made them want to help,” Vernette Doty, associate director of student life and civic leadership for UC Merced, said about the university students.
Many of the middle school girls who spoke Thursday said they’ve changed in just four weeks. “I was afraid of failing and being judged,” said Melissa Rivera Vega. “I learned to take a chance. You’ll never know if you don’t try.”
Samariah Payne said the program motivated her: “While in this program, I started walking with purpose.”
The benefits of the program were quickly visible, Delgado said. The first group of girls who participated in the program raised their grade-point average from 2.8 to 3.26.
Having the girls’ families present at the ceremony Thursday showed parents that their daughters, nieces and granddaughters had leadership skills that should be fostered and encouraged at home, Delgado said.
“We want to increase the visibility of women leaders in the community,” Delgado said. “If they take on this role at an early age, they’ll break glass ceilings left and right.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477