More than 150 girls in grades six through eight spent Tuesday getting empowered.
They were attending the 13th annual Sister to Sister Summit at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, sponsored by the Amsterdam-Gloversville-Johnstown branch of the American Association of University Women.
About a dozen school districts in Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties sent girls to the conference. They filled the theater building in droves, laughing, eating, mingling and having fun with peers they might never have met otherwise.
Melissa Crapser, 13, an eighth-grader at Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School, was attending her first summit.
“This is a chance to meet new people,” she said.
Her career goal is to be a cosmetologist and photographer, and she was pleased to see the summit offer workshops in both areas. She hoped to come away with a better understanding of these professions, as she has to decide on her future career in two years, when she plans to attend the local BOCES program in cosmetology and then study photography in college.
Corinne Dreusike, 14, also an eighth-grader from Oppenheim-Ephratah, said she attended last year’s summit and looked forward to this year’s event.
“It is a chance to make friends and do teamwork. I chose all the nerdy science workshops,” she said with a laugh.
Her career goal is to work in robotics or be a doctor. Like her friend Melissa, she has to make a decision shortly about her future — she will be entering high school next year and will have to start taking the necessary electives to work toward her chosen field.
This year’s summit took a new direction. It focused on science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — an area of study that does not often attract girls and women, especially minorities, for degree studies, according to the AAUW.
“We are trying to make the subject more exciting,” said Liz Russom, co-president of the local AAUW branch.
Past summits focused on what Russom called “evaded curriculum” topics. These are subjects schools do not address in their core curriculum standards, such as “boy-girl relations,” “mean girls,” “beauty is a state of mind.” They were primarily focused on self-esteem.
Self-esteem is still central to the summit’s goal, but it was emphasized this year through workshops that offered hands-on experience in high-tech subjects like DNA testing and a tour of the FMCC “clean room,” a special facility in which students can learn about the production of the silicon wafers used in computer operations, Russom said.
As part of the STEM focus, this year’s workshops focused on robotics, chemistry, medicine, invention, dance, photography and more. To attract girls, the AAUW used some clever marketing. The chemistry class, for example, was titled “Rescue Your Lips,” while “Raising the Curtain” was the name given to the dance class.
All of the attendees volunteered to go to the summit, held during a regular school day. Each school, however, used its own criteria to select which girls would attend.
Theresa House, a teacher at Fonda-Fultonville Central School, said teachers nominated girls based on their math and science abilities and whether they would benefit from the social interaction with their peers.
“This helps them develop character,” she said. “It is an exciting thing.”
Melanie Pomprio, a Fort Plain Central School teacher, said the district sends only girls in the eighth grade to the summit.
“We look at students geared toward math and science and with good attendance but who may not have the opportunity to socialize with their peers often,” she said.
Pomprio said the importance of building self-esteem is key.
“It is the foundation for speaking one’s mind and getting by in the work world,” she said. “You need to express yourself in your own thoughts.”