Sister-to-Sister conference sees record-high attendance

by Julian Nathan | 5/10/17 3:00am

Approximately 150 seventh- and eighth-grade female students from across the Upper Valley attended Link Up’s annual Sister-to-Sister conference on Thursday, April 27. The conference, which facilitated discussions among middle school girls about issues like bullying and body image, recorded its highest attendance since the conference began in 2000. In 2016, 130 students from eight different schools students attended Link Up’s conference, according to Link Up co-president Elizabeth Gold ’17.

She said the organization invited seven additional schools to attend this year’s conference, but they were unable to send students due to state standardized testing and school breaks that occurred on the same day.

Link Up co-president Sarah Han ’17 said the day’s programming included guest speakers, discussion groups and a “Step into the Circle” activity, during which girls were prompted to walk toward the center of a circle if they identified with certain statements. The statement covered issues related to social media and personal identity among others.

The girls were also given the opportunity to write letters to their future selves, which Link Up officers will give to the girls’ respective guidance counselors to redistribute to them during next year’s conference, Link Up executive board member Melissa Biggs ’18 said.

Gold said Link Up hosts this conference to give girls an opportunity to develop support networks as they navigate adolescence, during which girls may experience bullying or body image issues.

“Middle school can be a tough and confusing time for a lot of girls,” Biggs said.

Han said approximately 20 student volunteers helped set up the conference, performed skits and led discussions. She added that Link Up selected this year’s volunteers from applicants and last year’s volunteers.

Link Up’s executive board strove to ensure that this year’s volunteers would represent diverse social backgrounds, Gold said.

During “Step into the Circle,” most girls stepped forward in response to the final question, which asked if the participants had been dishonest during the activity, Han said. She said some girls might have felt uncomfortable with some of the statements or uncertain if the statements applied to them but was glad that they felt comfortable being self-reflective at the end of the activity.

Han said this activity allowed girls to see how much they had in common with their peers.

“It’s important for girls to feel solidarity [with respect to] their experiences,” she said.

Link Up will incorporate the feedback that it received from this year’s conference into future events, Han said.

Biggs added that Link Up changes its Sister-to-Sister discussion topics each year to ensure that the conference addresses current and relevant issues.