RUMFORD — Shelby McDiffett, an incoming freshman at Mountain Valley High School, said she has always been shy, and starting school at the end of August could have been scary.

But a weeklong series of events, team-building, and getting to know the school and some of the teachers and upperclassmen may change all that for Shelby, as well as for many other incoming freshman girls.

“This is getting me warmed up to people,” the Rumford teen said.

About 16 girls, mostly freshmen, have been taking part in a all-girls series of events at Mountain Valley High School this week in a program known as Girls Talk, sponsored by Partnership for Success, GEAR-UP, Safe Voices, and the high school’s library.

“Girls need that sense of community. It makes them more confident in themselves,” Barbara Radmore, coordinator of the program, said.

Gaining a sense of community as well as getting to know others is what the whole week has been about, from participating in improvisational talks, to learning to get untangled from a human knot created by fellow classmates, to picking fresh vegetables from the middle school garden and preparing supper together.

The girls also got to know the school after they played manhunt in the high school one afternoon.

On Thursday, an overnight was planned in the library, because at 7 a.m. Friday morning, the 16 girls who have been taking part in the week’s events were planning to head to New Hampshire to go whitewater rafting. Some of the teaching staff will also accompany the group so more positive connections can be made.

Cheyenne Gannon, a Rumford freshman, said she’s had lots of fun this week getting to know new people and learning how to communicate better. “I won’t get lost and I’ll know what to expect,” she said.

Renee Knox, an incoming junior from Mexico, helped plan the week’s events because she knows how difficult it is to come into a new school.

“They don’t know what to expect. Now they know they can talk to us,” she said.

The older students also helped introduce the newcomers to a variety of student organizations in the school, such as the Civil Rights Club and Voices Changing Choices.

Marie Russell, a University of Maine at Farmington student and intern with Safe Voices (formerly the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project) said some of the activities she led included setting boundaries and identifying gender stereotypes in advertising and music.

Mary Gamble, MVHS media specialist, said the five-day series of events made a positive connection for the girls.

Incoming freshman Kayla Drapeau of Rumford took advantage of nearly every activity offered during the week. She did scrapbooking and note taking and learned that she could create something really pretty when she made a fruit bouquet. She also learned that her father, MVHS graduate Thomas Drapeau, was quite an artist.

She found a 4-foot-tall painting by him, showing a Buddha-like person musing about man’s quest to find himself, on one of the classroom walls.

And for Rumford incoming freshman, Crystal Velez, she learned not to be as shy, just like her friend, Shelby.

“I learned to talk to and get to know people,” she said.


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