Stewiacke 'tween' attends North American summit

Marika Schenkels, right, visits Pier 39 with her new friends during the Discovery Girls Tween Summit in San Francisco. Schenkels was one of 36 young girls chosen to attend the three day event.

Marika Schenkels knew something was up. She just couldn’t put her finger on it. As she set the kitchen table with what she calls “the nice glasses” her mother Luanne circled with her i-Pad recording. Marika’s oldest brother had just returned from a successful showing at the science fair, but even that didn’t seem worthy of “the nice glasses” but that’s the only thing she could think of.

“It just seemed weird to me, all of it. But I went along with it anyway,” said the 12-year-old Colchester County resident. “It seemed a little extreme for science fair.” Sure enough, as the family and Marika’s friend sat down to enjoy their meal, Luanne raised her glass, and toasted her son on his science fair efforts. However, before Marika could take a bite of her supper, her mother said she had one more toast to make.

“She was still taping everything when she said she was making a toast to me,” said Marika. “That’s when she told me I was the newest Discovery Girl. I just lost it. I was so happy. I was screaming and jumping around I was so excited.”

Discovery Girls is a magazine started by Catherine Lee when her daughter Alexa was eight-years-old. In a letter to parents on the Discovery Girls website she says, “I wanted Alexa’s middle-school years to be different from mine. I remembered how alone I felt when I was her age. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that other girls went through confusing times and struggled to fit in, too—I just hadn’t known it back then. I was sure there must be a magazine that connected girls and showed them they weren’t really alone. To my surprise, I couldn’t find one. The magazine I wanted didn’t exist…so I began to think about creating it myself.”

In 2000, the first Discovery Girls magazine was published and as of 2010, the magazine was reaching close to one million subscribers. It’s produced every two months and it’s now grown to include an interactive website and four published books to help girls survive middle-school.

For Marika, she stumbled upon the magazine during a visit to the physiotherapist. It didn’t take her long to instantly relate to the words printed on each and every page. “One of the headlines was ‘Mean Brothers’ and I related to it immediately. I have two older brothers and sometimes they can be relentless. As I kept reading, I realized I really enjoyed the magazine. I followed online because I couldn’t find the magazine. That’s when I learned they were having a summit. I started reading the comments posted by other girls and they were really excited about it,” said Marika, a Grade 8 student at South Colchester Academy.

Marika started reading through the application questions and they only furthered her desire to attend. She submitted her application and waited. Never giving up hope, her efforts to attend the Discovery Girls summit culminated with her mother’s toast. She was one of more than 8,000 girls from across Canada and the United States to apply. This year’s summit was different than those in held in the past. Instead of holding a mini-summit in every US state, they went with one summit for all of North America which was held in San Francisco.

Accompanied by her mother, Marika left for the City by the Bay on July 20. The pair decided to extend their original three-day trip into a week-long one.

When they arrived, it didn’t take long for the girls to hit it off. “We all thought alike and had common traits so it was really easy to talk to and relate to each of them,” she said. “On the first day, we did some different modules. The organizers of the summit videotaped our conversations which ranged from everything to bullying and self-esteem to texting. Following that, they did some marketing photos outside before we played a few games and started working on some skits we had to perform on the last day.”

On day two, Marika says the girls, who were already separated into three groups, we taken in different directions. Her group got to visit popular Pier 39 for a behind-the-scenes photos shoot.

Marika says the photo shoot made them feel like celebrities.

“When we arrived, an assistant with us ran ahead and moved all the people out of the way so they weren’t in the photos,” she said. “Everyone was gathering around and a few of the younger girls recognized what we were wearing and knew that meant we were with Discovery Girls.”

The third day involved more photos, a dance, presenting their skits and a bonfire. But on the following morning, when she thought everything had finished, Marika was one of seven girls whisked away for more photos.

“This summit is where they generate all the material for their magazine so that’s why they were taking so many photos,” said Luanne. “The summit was broken up into two segments. Eighteen girls went to the first portion and then 18 more were in Marika’s group. There were six groups in total so each group covers one issue.”

Then it was the difficult task of saying goodbye.

“It was hard. You make friends with everyone but you really have a few girls who you get close with,” she said. “I still talk to a few of them which is nice.

“Even though that part was hard, it was the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me so far. It was so cool,” continued Marika. “I’m pretty confident so it was nice to be around other girls who feel the same way. It really opened my eyes up and broadened my whole spectrum. I could really relate to every bit of the summit. If there was something that didn’t directly apply to me, I knew someone it did. I now have a true fondness for San Francisco.”

And what did mom think of the experience?

“All of the content is directed by the girls. While they were there, they would be asked questions about different things,” said Luanne. “They had a good mix of cultures and ethnicity when it came to selecting the girls which was pretty important. It’s a good thing to look forward to. The content supports girls in their everyday lives, addresses self-esteem issues, and promotes confidence and a girl-power type approach. It’s a magazine, an app and it also has some books. I’m just glad there is a magazine like this out there for young girls. The woman who developed this is a mother and she did it to provide something that would capture girl’s interests without being focused on hair and makeup. It’s about being the person you are and helping them tackle some of the challenges that come along with being a young person. They did a great job of getting girls from all different walks of life.”

And to cap off her trip, Marika accomplished a personal goal while in San Francisco. “I wanted to see a wild dolphin,” she said. “Mom and I were at one of the beaches taking pictures when she started trying to quietly get me to turn around. As I did, I heard a splash. A minute later, a fin appeared in the water and then another one. They were so close.”

To learn more about Discovery Girls, visit www.discoverygirls.com.

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