By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
CAMDEN – It was a conversation that is burned in the mind of Amber Jones but one that made her realize she had to take action.
A teacher at Cramer Hill Elementary School, Jones recalled a conversation she had with a first grader, which led to her creating Queens Academy, a program for young girls of color.
"She told me, 'Ms. Jones, I hate my dark skin and nappy hair," Jones told Front Runner New Jersey.com. "When she told me this it first made me realize that she probably is not the only girl in the school who is struggling with low self-esteem and her identity and secondly it brought me back to my own childhood where I struggled with low self-esteem and wishing I could be anyone else other than myself.
"This conversation ignited a fire within me to get to work right away. I held a meeting with my principal the next day and she gave me the 'go' to establish my girl's group."
Jones said she created her own programming from the ground up and her own curriculum that is Social Emotional Learning base. She instilled lessons on pride, history, and information on Black and Latina culture since more than 90% of her participants are black and brown girls.
"I currently have 62 girls in my program ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade," Jones said. "The majority of my girls are students at Mastery Cramer Hill, some are from the Kroc Center and some have joined after their parents got word of Queens Academy from social media or word of mouth."
Jones said she hopes girls gain an "undeniable love for themselves" through the program. She said for kindergarteners, she believes they need to start early with teaching girls to love themselves.
"I hope they gained insight and tools on how to navigate life," Jones said. "I hope that they understand that through Queens Academy they have a sisterhood that will always encourage them to be their best.
"Through mentors our girls are making positive connections with adults and learning the importance of collaboration. I try to provide girls with unforgettable experiences that will last them a lifetime. I truly try to touch upon every facet of life from how to carry themselves like ladies, to know their worth, to community outreach (toy drives, clothing drives, etc.) to college/career planning," she continued.
Even though she is a native of New Haven, Conn., Jones said she feels a strong connection to Camden and the community.
"I have planted roots in the Camden area, Jones said. "Although Camden is not my hometown it reminds me so much of where I grew up. I love Camden and just want to be a positive contributor to the Camden community."
Jones said the girls at the Queens Academy touch her in a personal way because she sees herself in everyone.
"I wish I had a program such as Queens Academy when I was growing up," Jones said. "I am giving my girls the things I wish I got when I was growing up, which was positivity, encouragement and a safe space to learn about myself and connect with others."
Jones said while the Queens Academy is conducted weekly at Cramer Hill, they hold a girls group once a month at the Kroc Center.
"Since we are fairly new, a lot of the Camden community does not know who we are yet, but I want Camden to know that we are looking to partner with schools and youth centers to bring our programming to their girls," Jones said.
"We are looking for schools to partner with for the 2022-2023 school year. As of right now the barrier has been making contact with schools," she continued.
Right now, the Queens Academy is looking for interns and volunteers from high school to adult women for the 2022-2023 school year. Jones said she has been in contact with Rowan's School of Education and Temple University's School of Social Work where Queens Academy is being offered to students as a field placement option.
QUESTION: How badly is programs like Queens Academy is needed in urban areas of New Jersey? Why? Answer in the discussion section below.
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