For three Tuesdays in November, roughly 80 Lawrence Elementary School fifth-grade girls have met in groups of up to 13 during each of the school day’s eight period led by Danielle Urrego of the Hance Foundation and school social worker Margaret Brickman in an effort to build confidence in the pre-adolescent young women using the “Beautiful Me” program.
“[At Lawrence Middle School] we use the Social Emotional Learning Program to boost the self-esteem of our kids,” Brickman said, “last June one of our teachers took part in the ‘Beautiful Me’ program with her daughter and said it was wonderful.”
Brickman said she contacted the Hance Foundation during the summer. Jackie and Warren Hance founded the foundation after their daughters, Emma, Alyson and Katie, were killed in a car accident on the Taconic Parkway in 2009.
Beautiful Me is described as an educational, self-esteem program designed to help young girls focus on appreciating their qualities, accurate self-awareness and the satisfaction gained by helping others.
“Since we are Lawrence Elementary School, grades three, four and five, I thought it was the perfect opportunity as they transition to middle school, and a good time for the girls to identify what makes a good person,” Brickman said.
Fifth-graders Thalia Calderon and Sunaina Samala had taken part in two of the sessions. Calderon said she has learned to always love herself and take care of herself and not listen to anyone who is judging her.
“It is very special,” Calderon said about taking part in the program. “I think that these people are helping us and teaching us to be treated like we should be treated.”
Samala said she has learned that all girls, whether a model or a regular person, are very similar and that occasionally the beauty you see is created more than natural. “Being part of this program means a lot,” she said, “it shows that girls really are beautiful and need to learn to love themselves for the way they are.”
Calderon and Samala were split on whether there should be a similar program for the boys with Calderon supporting the idea and Samala not in favor. “No, boys, they have a lot, and girls are bullied for the way they look,” Samala said.
The discussions have focused on what it takes to be a good friend, a good person and what the girls like about themselves. In one session, the girls were asked which body part of their do they like the best. “So, I love my hands because they help me be musical,” said Calderon, who plays the cello.
Samala said she is applying what she learned through Beautiful Me to every day life. “Like every time you see posters and always think the people are so beautiful, but the photo was PhotoShopped,” she said, meaning that the digital software program was used to enhance the person’s appearance.
Though the program for this school year has ended and the girls will be moving on to middle school next year, Brickman said she will check up on the girls through the middle school social worker. “It’s helping the kids really understand what labels are and how you don’t judge a book by its cover,” she said.