It used to be common practice to label youth who come from low-income and disadvantaged communities as “at-risk.” This label is used to communicate that children who come from underserved communities are “at risk” of dropping out of school, entering the juvenile justice system, and overall not achieving academically and socially.
Recently, however, academics and educators have pushed for a re-labelling of youth from underserved communities from “at-risk” to “at-promise.” The goal of this shift is to change the mindset of educators, mentors, and community change agents from focusing on the disadvantaged position of youth to their potential to overcome adversity.
We often underestimate the power of language to reinforce preconceived notions about people. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the way we label people will seep into the way we communicate and interact with them. By catching the stereotype at its source and changing the words we use to describe the girls that we work with, we can change our own attitudes towards them and our own belief in their potential to achieve.
Changing our label from “at-risk” to “at-promise” also has strong effects on the girls that we work with. When a girl hears that she falls into a category that people would label as “at-risk,” it affects her own perception of her potential and ability to achieve a better life. The negative label acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy by reinforcing cyclical patterns that afflict girls coming from underserved communities. By switching the label to “at-promise,” we communicate to girls and their community leaders that they are filled with promise and potential to break the cycle of poverty and attain a better life.
At Girl Power, we provide safe spaces where girls can gain the confidence and skills they need to achieve academically and socially. Many of the girls that we work with come from underserved communities in Miami-Dade County. Our staff members fully believe in the potential of each and every girl that enters our many empowerment-focused mentorship, after school and day programs.
By labelling our girls as “at-promise,” we communicate to them that we believe in their ability to turn their situation around. If they aren’t reaching high academic standards, they have the potential to study hard to get better grades. If they have behavioral issues, we believe in their ability to work on their communication and social skills to achieve better outcomes. Our evidence-based, culturally-responsive curriculum is designed to help girls gain the skills they need to achieve academically, socially and emotionally. Each girl, no matter what zip code she comes from, is filled with promise and potential. Our job is to help her see and grasp it.