When Melissa was invited to join a SNEAKERS group, she was an 8th grader at Gaithersburg Middle School. She joined because she was drawn to the idea of a group “just for girls.” Through SNEAKERS, she found a place where she could “say anything” and always “get good advice.” In her group, the girls “not only talked about college, but problems you could be facing in your life.” Happily, when she moved to the 9th grade at Gaithersburg High School, Melissa was able to join a SNEAKERS group for 9th grade girls, and she remained in the program until she graduated in June 2015.
Over time, SNEAKERS became what she called her “backbone” because “girls can rely on SNEAKERS for school help, relationship help, and basically anything.” Most importantly, her experiences in SNEAKERS profoundly changed how Melissa viewed herself and her future. Like all of us, especially in our teen years, Melissa’s beliefs about herself were influenced by the broader society in which we live. For girls of color, the prevailing prejudices and stereotypes can have a profoundly negative impact.
Here is how Melissa put it,
“[SNEAKERS] helps Latinas like me see the world differently and have hope because being a Latina is hard. Most people think that I’ll drop out of school and have a baby at age 15. It’s hard to try with all these negative concepts around me, but being in this program has helped me see that it’s not like that and I can be something in my life.”
In SNEAKERS, Melissa says that she learned “good communication skills,” “to make better and wiser decisions,” and “to be open-minded and accept others’ differences.” The one experience she said she would “never forget” was an overnight college trip because “not only was the trip fun, but it also opened my eyes to an opportunity I had never considered.”
In a 2014 interview, 11th grade Melissa had this to say about SNEAKERS’ impact on how she saw her future:
“Before SNEAKERS, I wasn’t sure if I could go to college. If I was smart enough to get the grades for it. SNEAKERS ended my doubts! It showed me that if you really want to go to college, you can do it. I see going to college in my future.”
And in 2016, she did just that. Melissa is now enrolled part-time at Montgomery College and plans to attend full-time in the fall of 2016. She is currently working towards an associate’s degree in special education and then plans to transfer to the University of Maryland to earn a bachelor’s degree.