Middle schoolers spoke about their experience in the Young Ladies of Distinction Program at Patrick Henry Middle and High School.
The teens sat quietly in a row as they shared with one another what they learned in the inaugural semester of the Young Ladies of Distinction (YLD) Program.
The program was founded by Patrick Henry High School junior, Rhaeven Parson, and senior, Joni Barlow. It is designed as a mentoring program for middle schoolers at the alternative school, according to Patrick Henry School Counselor Shareka Ellis, the program’s sponsor.
Parson, 16, and Barlow, 17, meet once a week with young girls at Patrick Henry Middle School, where they discuss different subjects, ranging from peer pressure, to academics, and from public speaking, to etiquette.
Ellis said the program came to exist at the request of the school’s assistant principal, Monica Stevenson Harry Kustick, who made the suggestion to Barlow. Barlow turned to Parson to help her get the would-be program off the ground.
On Wednesday, the pair of student leaders celebrated what they called a successful first semester of YLD, by recognizing six of the program’s founding members. Those members included: Shyneria Kitchens, Ashley Watkins, Brianna Stroud, Kayla Williams, Cateah Smith, and Samantha Milbry.
“They are wonderful girls,” said Barlow. “They are all like our little sisters, and we love them. I’m sad. I’m going to miss you, but we’re going to keep this going.”
Patrick Henry eighth-grader, Cateach Smith, was awarded the program’s “leadership award” for her demonstration of being a role model.
“They helped me to know how to handle certain situations,” said Smith, 14.
Smith said she was sent to the alternative school this fall from Eagle’s Landing Middle School and plans to return to her home school in January.
“I let little things get to me,” said Smith, as she caressed two baby-blue kindness bracelets. She said she keeps them on either wrist “to remind me that you have to respect everyone.”
Each member of Patrick Henry’s YLD spoke during Wednesday’s reception, giving brief speeches on how they have been empowered by the program to mature and become good citizens of the world.
“I think it’s a wonderful concept,” said Catherine Parson, a guest speaker at the reception.
Catherine Parson, the aunt of Rhaeven Parson, also serves as Patrick Henry YLD’s organization manager. She spoke with middle schoolers this fall as a motivational speaker, helping give them ideas on ways of dealing with frustrations.
“I think it’s important for them to have a mutual adult, who does not know their situation, to be a sounding board for them,” said the organization manager. “The program doesn’t judge them. It teaches that even though something looks negative, there’s always positive in it. I think it’s a positive group.”
Rhaeven Parson said she reflects on the experiences of her young life in hopes her lessons learned can be lessons for her younger peers.
“I turned the bad into a good thing,” said Rhaeven Parson. “I do realize I made mistakes. But I’m not a bad person. I’m not all what people say. I’m more than that, I’m bigger than that.”
LaKeitha Smith, the mother of Cateah Smith, said she was proud of her daughter’s decision to join YLD.
“It’s a very positive program,” said LaKeitha Smith. “It’s an outlet for her to express herself and to talk about issues she’s going through that she may not be comfortable talking to me about. They need to have this type of program inside the home schools.”