Over 300 middle-school girls from across the county gathered last Saturday at Luther Jackson Middle School to participate in a career and leadership conference. Titled "Strength in Character," the future professionals conference was organized to help girls determine what careers they could pursue.
"This will give some information they can use to set some goals," said Dr. Lois Berlin, of Alexandria City schools.
Attendees went to three sessions during the day, two on careers and one on leadership. Local professionals facilitated the sessions, ranging from civic leadership to firefighting to landscape design. Leadership sessions covered topics such as interviewing skills, time management, young entrepreneurship and women’s safety.
Conference organizers hoped that the information the students learned from session facilitators about the paths they took, would help students determine their future choices. .
"They need to start thinking about the course selections they’ll take in high school," said Julie Christian, a retired administrator and a member of Phi Delta Kappa, one of the conference’s sponsors.
In addition to career and leadership sessions, students watched actors from the True Colors Communications Group perform scenes about personality clashes and cooperation in leadership situations. They also heard an address by Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, Virginia’s secretary of education.
"You should never go into a career because of how much money you will make; you'll be miserable. You should choose a career for which you have a passion. You'll wake up each day happy to go to work. ... Don't write off any career thinking that you can't do it; you determine your own success," Wheelan said.
A group of middle-school administrators came up with the idea of the conference, after reading "Reviving Ophelia," a book that navigates girls’ self-esteem as they progress from childhood to adolescence.
School administrators and guidance counselors chose which 12 students from their school might benefit from the conference. The conference also included 100 adult and high-school volunteers, as well as 40 presenters.
"We wanted the girls to know they have a future," said Carol Robinson, principal at Luther Jackson Middle and one of the key organizers of the conference.
"I hope the girls come out of here feeling very special," said Bruce Oliver, principal of Thoreau Middle School in Vienna. "This was really the idea, to motivate [them]."
Conference attendees and Thoreau Middle students Imani Cup’e, Grace Njoroge and Zakiya Cup’e looked forward to the day’s events.
"I want to choose my future career," seventh-grader Imani said, when asked why she attended the conference. Imani said she might want to be an artist.
"It just seemed interesting to learn how to pick my future," said Imani’s sister, eighth-grader Zakiya.
"They want to help us get out and be something," said eighth-grader Grace.