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This week, Drury University has had a few different residents than it’s used to housing. Fourteen Latina teenage girls from southwest Missouri are taking part in the school’s Campamento de Alumnas Hispanas (Summer Camp for Latina girls). The camp gives the girls the chance to spend a week on the campus and engage in a variety of academic sessions. KSMU’s Rebekah Clark has more.
The girls taking part in the program are between the ages of 11 and 15, and all identify themselves as Latinas from Springfield, Monett, Purdy, Republic and Branson. During this program, they live in the Drury dormitories and eat in the university’s cafeteria. The week-long event is free to the campers.
Dr. Rebecca Denton, Associate Professor of Education and Child Development at Drury, is one of the co-founders of this program.
“Our goal really is to get them to start thinking not only about their futures, their futures, that’s important, but for them to really understand themselves. What is normal, and even if it’s normal developmentally, maybe it’s not a good idea. To get them to think about how to make positive choices. We talk about nutrition, safety, communication, beauty…what does it mean to be beautiful.”
Denton says they try to use real world examples to give the girls the idea that a perfect outward appearance cannot come from society’s standards. For instance, during one of their talks about beauty, the leaders brought in a diagram of what Barbie would look like if she were real. According to the girls, life-size Barbie isn’t physically attractive at all.
While on campus, the girls engage in classes facilitated by Drury faculty. Topics include adolescent literature and creative writing. These sessions, however, are interspersed with non-academic activities like jewelry making, swimming and a trip to Springfield’s Discovery Center.
Denton says in the future she would like to split the older and younger girls to focus more on each age group. But the resources to do that, as of now, are limited.
“We do know that the girls are saying ‘I didn’t think about this before until I came to camp—I’ve never been around so many people that look like me.’ So we’ll say, ‘Who are you? What are you proud of?’ Some will say very definitely, ‘I am proud to be a Latina.’ Some will just say, ‘I am proud to be an American.’ ‘I’m proud to be a member of this camp.’ And we don’t push labels on them. They don’t have to say anything specific. Our thing is, we want them to be proud.”
One girl participating, Gabby Ceceñas, is a freshmen at Monett High School. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19 percent of the 8,873 people that live in Monett are Hispanic.
“At school, all of my friends are Caucasian, so I don’t have many Latina friends. So when I talk to them about my culture and what we do, they don’t think it’s weird, but they think it’s different. They don’t connect. So when I came here, we talk about what we do, our culture, all the foods that we eat.”
She gave one example of a culture difference that she and her friends share: the celebration of their Quinceañera, which for her, is coming up soon.
“They have sweet sixteen’s, but we have Quinceañeras. It’s like a birthday party, but for your fifteenth birthday. It’s tradition. It’s basically saying, you’re turning 15, you’re leaving your childhood thoughts behind, your dolls, and you’re turning into a woman.”
She says she’s not quite ready to grow up. However, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t started thinking about her future.
“I want to be a child psychologist. I really do. Just helping them with their problems. Because it’s kind of a getaway for the kids. I want to help them get away from their troubles at home and I want to help them resolve things. Like an escape.”
Her biggest goal is to re-define how society looks at Hispanics as a whole.
Dr. Denton and other Drury faculty members, along with current Drury education students, will be working with the girls all week.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.