The series of posts over the next several days will feature essays on National Be Your Best Self Week 2012. These posts were the winning entries for the three Be Your Best Self Satellite Awards and Distinguished Outreach Award presented at the 55th Distinguished Young Women National Finals in June. National Be Your Best Self Week is a week-long outreach effort presented by Distinguished Young Women each spring. Participants at all levels of the program (local, state and national) engage in community outreach to share the positive message of the Be Your Best Self program. For more information, visit http://www.distinguishedyw.org/be_your_best_self/.
By Jennifer Pruett
Distinguished Young Woman of West Virginia for 2012
“I help with Emma’s Touch, a local foundation for childhood cancer!” a young girl exclaimed from the second row during the “Involvement” section of my BYBS presentation. This moment reminded me how blessed I was to have the opportunity to speak on such a profound subject. Due to recent suicides within our county as a result of bullying, I spoke on building self esteem and walking in others’ shoes during my presentation.
My presentation was in front of the entire fifth grade at my local elementary school. Due to a lack of a Boy’s and Girl’s club in my community, I chose to speak to this fifth grade class. I really enjoyed speaking to this age group, as they are still interested in fun activities such as paper chains, yet they are mature enough to understand the topics of drugs and bullying. There were sixty students listening in on my presentation as I went through the five different subjects used to build the “best self”. “Be healthy, be involved, be studious, be ambitious, and be responsible”, I described each of these subjects and gave examples of how each subject can be carried out.
As the children sat in front of me I was able to remember how I was at that age. In fifth grade, I felt like I could rule the world; face anything that came to me. Little did I know that I had not experienced even half of the challenges of growing up. I tried my best to be real with the children. I told them how I felt and how I acted at their age. I tried my best to assure them that being an individual is the best thing they can do to prepare for life. As we went through the five topics of my presentation I continued to remind them that they are wonderful individuals and everything that they do can impact others.
I made sure to take time to key in on all of the guidelines provided by BYBS to assure that the children grasped the whole picture our program is trying to display. I began with “Health”. Each topic came with a slide in my slideshow. As I popped up the topic of health I asked them if they could name different ways in which to stay healthy. The fifth graders raised their hands anxiously, “Exercise!” they yelled; “Eating fruits!” I heard. I was excited over the knowledge that the children already had on the subject, however I was even more excited to be able to share that keeping a clear mind and staying drug free can also be healthy. The children were so eager to learn and even more eager to share their knowledge with me. I made sure to let the students participate as much as possible. I felt as though it was very important to take in their ideas and give them a moment to prove themselves (build self esteem).
I went through the same procedure for each topic, being involved, being studious, being ambitious, and being responsible. The fifth graders learned the definition of ambition, while discovering that they already had some inside. I was very thrilled to teach a new word to the children; however it was the next topic that was the most personally rewarding.
As the children were already fully aware, a sixth grade boy in their neighboring school had just committed suicide a week before. The suspected cause was in-school bullying. Being the third one in our county this year, the school systems cracked down on bullying policies. I took this opportunity to remind my audience that picking on others because of their looks or possessions is diminutive. I took this serious time to zero in on the fact that everyone has feelings and we cannot see into their lives. I asked them to practice “walking in their enemy’s shoes”. I then told them, “Someone in this room may have a hard life at home. They may not have someone there that they can trust. Also, someone in this room picks on that one person.” It was sad to see the children turn and look at each other, knowing that I had made a good guess. I told them that the bully or bullies should change their ways; but I really focused on telling the children that if they are being picked on and there is no one at home to talk to, that they could find someone at school. I even went as far to tell them that if there was no one at school that they felt comfortable talking to, they can talk to me after the presentation and I will give them my phone number. I was very much upset by this topic. I really hoped that this serious time touched at least one child. Letting them know that they have a chance and they have someone in this world.
After I finished my five subjects I gave them each an activity. I gave all sixty students a piece of paper with the five subjects listed. I asked them to write one thing that they will do from each subject to be their best self. They then signed the paper, promising me that they will do their best to follow through. I proceeded to take each paper and staple them together creating a paper chain representing all the students coming together to be their best selves. As I went around to staple the chain together, a young girl from the back row whispered up my name. “Jennifer. Miss Jennifer, may I please have your phone number?” My heart melted. She was obviously embarrassed to ask near other children, yet she was brave enough to reach for help. I leaned down and whispered my number to her and told her that she could call me anytime and that I was more than willing to talk to her if she needs.
As I left that classroom I found something within myself that told me that no matter what happens in Alabama at National Finals, I have been given this opportunity for a reason. If my reason was to only give that little girl hope, my mission is accomplished. I have found my best self.
Originally from Princeton, West Virginia, Jennifer Pruett was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of West Virginia for 2012. She was the recipient of the Be Your Best Self Satellite Award at the 55th Distinguished Young Women National Finals held June 2012 in Mobile, Alabama.