By Alex Lippa
---- — PLAISTOW — Some eighth-grade girls at Timberlane Regional Middle School are on a real power trip — and that’s a good thing.
The students are members of Sister Power, an after-school group designed to build self-esteem and self-confidence.
It’s the brainchild of Myra Hogan, a physical education and health teacher, and she’s happy with the results.
For several years, Hogan said, she didn’t like what she was seeing from some middle-school girls — bullying, a lack of respect for one another and sagging self-esteem.
This year, she decided to do something about it. She started Sister Power to help the girls build their confidence as they approach high school.
“As girls go up to the high school, we have needed to work on self-esteem and self-confidence,” Hogan said. “They’re at the top of the eighth grade now, but they will be at the bottom of the heap next year. The transition is kind of scary.”
The group meets once a week in a roundtable format. Hogan usually has a topic to get a discussion started and the conversation evolves from there.
“We do a lot of talking and just activities to build self-esteem,” she said. “We eat, we laugh and we have fun.”
The group started in November, and Hogan and some of the girls report a noticeable improvement in its members’ self-esteem.
“There is an image of girls in commercials that every girl is supposed to want to be,” said Veronica Galimberti, an eighth-grader from Plaistow. “We have learned to not be blinded by that; we all get together and see beyond that. We build up confidence not because of what society wants us to be, but who we truly are.”
The girls tackle a range of topics. They do meditation exercises to help relieve stress. They discuss their changing bodies. Sometimes, they even talk about things like putting on makeup.
“We’ll do some makeup sessions and make them feel ‘girly-girl’ for a bit,” Hogan said. “But we will teach them how to put it on so they can wear their makeup and be successful and not have to worry about if they are putting on too much or not enough.”
There are guests, too, people Hogan thinks can serve as role models.
A high school student makes regular appearances to talk to the girls about her own experiences. Hogan plans to invite female business leaders in to talk to the girls.
“I want people to talk to the girls about how they got where they were,” she said.
It took Hogan a few years to get the group going.
“I told my colleagues that we need to do something for these girls,” she said. “They’re floundering. We need to do something to help them.”
One of the first members was Jewelia Mackie of Sandown.
Jewelia said she didn’t have self-esteem issues, but she wanted to help other girls who were struggling.
“There’s a lot of issues with teenage girls,” she said. “I try to get all the girls who I think need a boost of confidence to come out and join.”
A similar group could start for high schoolers, but Jewelia said she isn’t sure it would work.
“I don’t think a lot of girls would join because of the stigma,” she said, “because they think they’d be too cool to join.”
But Hogan is confident girls would be drawn into the group.
“There were plenty of girls in our group who thought that in the beginning,” she said, “but they found their way in.”