Girls Inc. Helped Make a
New Student Feel Welcome

“I want to be an oral surgeon when I grow up. I want to fix people’s smiles.”

-Kirstin

“I became more comfortable talking about stuff that I was thinking about,” says Kirstin. “I talked about things that I wouldn't usually talk about or even think about. I also learned more about my best friends.”

“We started talking about lockers, the dress code, even bad food,” says Kirstin.

Kirstin went from being the new kid to a leader of her peers. She worked with her group to raise awareness about dress code issues at her school.

Kirstin Fontenot moved to John G. Borden Middle School, Wallkill, NY from New York City’s P.S. 57 in 2016. She was worried about fitting in, “Everyone had friends from going to elementary school together,” she says.

Kirstin began getting involved with cheerleading, track, and competing in events like shot put and 55-meter hurdles. She started to meet people and when one of her friends asked her to join the school’s Girls Inc. group, she didn’t really know what to expect.

“They said that they enjoyed it and I should come,” she says, “but I don’t usually talk in front of new people that I just met. I wasn’t too open on the first day.”

Girls Inc.’s mission is to inspire girls to be strong smart and bold. The group is a safe place for girls to hash things out. A regular group meeting starts with sharing snacks which is part of caring for each other, making sure everyone gets a fair share. Then there's small writing prompts. To warm up, a group might all get pieces of paper where they can write down what’s on their mind, they can choose to share one thing with the rest of the group. The conversation and sharing can start talks about light-hearted things like food or pets, but often expand to more serious issues such as family, mourning, body image and stereotyping.

“I became more comfortable talking about stuff that I was thinking about,” says Kirstin. “I talked about things that I wouldn't usually talk about or even think about. I also learned more about my friends [in the group].”

The group’s focus when Kirsten joined was Leadership and Community Action, and the girls look to their community, their school, and identify issues that are not just affecting the girls in the group but the larger student body.

“We started talking about lockers, the dress code, even bad food,” says Kirstin.

One day, the principal of the school, Ms. Andersen, came to visit the group. The girls were encouraged to share what they were working on. They spoke about what they had experienced being dress-coded. The girls were nervous but were encouraged to speak their minds. Ms. Andersen listened to what they had to say and the group was invited to the Code of Conduct meeting to present the student’s point of view to administration and teachers making decisions.

To prepare for the meeting the group worked together on how they would communicate their ideas to make sure they would be heard. Two students were picked to present, Kirstin was one of them. The day of, they were nervous but determined to represent their peers in hopes of making a change.

“We told them we felt like there are more rules towards girls than there are towards boys,” says Kirstin. “It's hard to fit into what's cool to wear and also the dress code. We thought it was unfair and inconsistent that our shoulders are considered distracting, and they said they could see how it was unfair.”

As a result of the girl's hard work, there were some changes made to the school’s dress code.

In June of 2017, Kirstin was awarded a Certificate of Special Recognition for her work with Girls Inc. of Ulster and Dutchess Counties. More than ever, she feels comfortable saying what’s on her mind.

“I want to be an oral surgeon when I grow up,” she says. “I want to fix people’s smiles. It’s one of the first things you see when you look at someone, and it can make people really self-conscious.”

Next fall, she’s on her way to Wallkill Senior High School.

“There’s no Girls Inc. program there,” she says. “I’m gonna miss it. I would recommend it to anyone.”