Inaugural GEMS Summit helps girls see their sparkle

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March 29, 2022 by HCDE-Texas

On Friday, female students from Harris County Department of Education’s (HCDE) four special schools were uplifted through tools, resources, and mentorship during Fortis Academy’s inaugural Girls Empowered and Motivated to Succeed (GEMS) Summit.   

Modeled after the theme “Growing into Greatness,” the GEMS Summit featured prominent female guest speakers, access to college and career readiness and wellness vendors, and breakout sessions designed to help young women realize the best versions of themselves.   

“Today is all about [young women] making connections, gaining resources, building confidence and motivation, and feeling good about [themselves],” said Fortis Academy Principal Travita Godfrey, who carried over the idea for the event from previous roles. “We want these girls to know that if there’s something they want and have the will to do it, there’s a way.”  

Students from ABS East, ABS West, Highpoint and Fortis gather for a girls empowerment summit at Fortis Academy, March 25, 2022.

Featured guest speakers included Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth and businesswomen Chantel Mack and Cassidy Edwards. The women discussed personal and professional challenges they faced throughout their lives and journeys to high-profile careers, in which minorities and women of color are historically underrepresented. They also welcomed students to contact them about mentorship opportunities and career advice.  

“I hope that they can use these ladies as role models and will be able to see a future for themselves and not feel like they have to stay stagnant or that they can’t rise above their situation,” said Godfrey. 

As the first African American woman to serve as Harris County Clerk, Hudspeth shared impactful lessons with the students. 

“Growing up, I, too, was considered a teenage girl from a special population [and have] overcome much adversity to get to where I am today,” she said. “With that, I feel it is a portion of my life’s purpose to share my story, be a positive influence, and encourage other young women to overcome and achieve. There’s enough space for all of us to win.” 

Fortis senior Nayelli Salazar was one of many students moved by the display of such vulnerability from successful and prominent women. 

“It’s nice to know that an adult has gone through things you can relate to,” said Salazar. “I thought they were very personal and could connect with everybody well because everybody goes through a lot, even if it’s not the same sort of situation. It was inspiring.” 

Following the testimonies, the girls attended breakout sessions that covered self-care, social etiquette, and a session titled “Marketing Yourself on Social Media,” in which HCDE Chief Communications Officer Danielle Clark discussed the importance and methods of managing one’s brand and digital footprint.  

As the girls enjoyed lunch, they had a chance to have their college, career, and personal health and wellness questions answered by Lone Star College, Workforce Solutions, and Bee Busy Wellness Center representatives. 

The GEMS Summit concluded as each student received a certificate signifying her attendance.  

Godfrey shares the hope to keep the concept alive as she and HCDE Parent Engagement Liaison Kristi Harding look forward to the boys’ empowerment summit they will host in May. 

“We hope to widen the net and make an even greater impact,” said Godfrey.

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