Year of the Girl

Year of the Girl: Skyler Burnham

Year of the Girl, a personal project I've embarked upon seeking out girls making a difference in the community, doing what they love.  I interview them for tidbits of wisdom that only they have, and then I make portraits of them to share with them and with all of you.  At it's core, "Year of the Girl" is a human interest project which seeks to empower young girls, their voices, their desires/dreams for the future, their unique qualities in order to offer other girls (and women alike) role models, inspiration, motivation, strength. 

I met Skyler Burnham, a 17-year-old junior, honors student who maintains a 3.8 GPA, on a bright Sunday afternoon in mid March.  Skyler's an athlete; bilingual in Spanish-English; a prize-winning hunter; and a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) driven student, attending Wilson High School in West Lawn, PA.  She and her mom, Beth Burnham, agreed to meet with me for our interview and portrait shoot at my in-home studio.  My middle daughter, Alanna, was also in attendance.  

Here are some excerpts from the interview piece, peeks into Skyler's busy life, I was so generously granted.  As well as, some of the portraits we created together. 

Side note:  Please keep in mind, as you read through our interview, that the views and opinions within are not politically motivated.  They are simply views and opinions stated by the women in attendance around my dining room table and are relevant to current events.  This was an honest conversation, through which I learned quite a bit.  And I couldn't be more grateful to Skyler and her lovely mom, Beth. Thank you ladies!  Thank you, dear reader, for keeping an open mind, too.  

BL:  What are you most looking forward to this spring?

SB:  Being outside.  (laughs)  Because I’m in track right now and it’s really cold, so, we always have to wear like 5 layers of leggings and sweatshirts.  So, I’m excited to be outside in shorts and a t-shirt and enjoy the weather.  And also, outdoor volleyball starts, and I’ll get to play doubles with my friends. 

BL:  What do you feel you gain most by playing a team sport?  

SB:  I think you make connections with people which is really cool because then you’re all coming together to play the same thing that you all, well, most of you all, are passionate about, but at the level that I’m playing [Volleyball] at now everybody is.  And it’s just fun because you all share that one thing in common.  You can all be into totally different things, totally different aspects of life, but when you come together on a court you’re really just united as a team. I meet so many different people and experience different things.  I play for Surge, so there’s people from Fleetwood and Cocalico and Wilson and it’s nice because you’re all rivals during school season but then you all come together and you’re one team, which is really cool. 

BL:  So, you played against them at one point and now you’re all together as one team?! 

SB:  (laughing) Yea. Yea. It’s cool because then you meet a lot of different people.  Like last year there was someone from York on my team, which their school is kind of faraway.  But it was cool because you would have never met these people before now and feel close to them. So, that’s why I like it.  

BL:  Is volleyball a pretty popular sport?  

SB:  It’s getting more and more popular as the years go on.  And they’re starting to get kids involved younger and younger ages.  

BB:  She was just in Boston for a volleyball tournament and there were over 600 teams.  

SB:  It was a 3 day tournament.  

BL:  Wow!  That’s great!  From all over the country? 

SB:  Yea. 

BL:  Wow.  That’s awesome!  It sounds like a lot of fun!

Family and Senior Photography | My 3 Girls Photography

BL:  I noticed, according to your resume, that Mrs. Marconi sent to me, that you have a particular fondness for Chemistry and Math.  Has this always come natural to you? 

SB:  Yea, math always usually does.  Well, in sixth grade at Southern you can take this test to be in advanced math and I passed it.  So, like right now, I should be taking Pre-Calc, but I’m in Calc. It’s fun.  I just like solving things, I think that helps a lot. 

BL:  That’s great!  So, what excites you most about these areas of study? 

SB:  Solving the problems.  I don’t know, it might sound weird because when you solve a math problem it might not be that exciting, but I love actually getting to the answer and figuring it out.  And for Chemistry, I like when we learn stuff on paper and how to do it and then actually do it in lab and how you see how it actually works.  We were doing equilibrium problems, and how you have a certain compound when you add it and it changes colors and you go back and forth.  When we actually do that in lab it makes sense and it’s cool to actually see it when everything works.

BL:  I see, so taking the actual problem and then having the hands on experiment is what gets you excited about math.

SB:  Yea, that’s what I like about Engineering, because you do everything on the computer then you actually build it and it’s cool to actually see it come to life.  

BL:  We need more women engineers! (we’re all smiling and laughing in agreement)

Family and Senior Photography | My 3 Girls Photography

SB:  That’s what I’m going for. 

BL:  Yes!  What type of engineering? 

SB:  I haven’t really decided.  I’m in Aerospace Engineering class right now and I really like it because we learned how to fly planes on a simulator.  So, I can technically go take my pilot’s test now.  The simulator is what you have to pass to get that.  So, I did that and I also really like, … I don’t know… I did a computer-integrated manufacturing class last year.  We would design things on the computer and then actually go in there and build it with the machines and stuff.  I don’t really know yet, but I really like Aerospace and then I like, obviously, Chemistry.  I like Chemical Engineering, too.  So, it’s hard. (laughs) 

BL:  I know, right?!  To pick one area, ahhh (everyone’s laughing).  What are some of the things you learn about in your aerospace engineering class?  And do you want to explore space? 

SB:  Well, we first started learning about aerodynamics and how everything works.  Our first project was making a boomerang and a lot of kids in my class they had designs that were really hard to make work and they usually didn’t, but mine worked.  That was really fun to actually make something that works how it’s supposed to.  Then we learned about planes and how to make them, so we built little plane models and flew them.  Now we’re learning about space.  So, we know all the planets, orbits and how the orbits work and how like to launch something and everything that goes into it.  But, yea, I would want to go to space.  It seems really fun.  But, like, there’s a lot of training that goes into it, so, I don’t know about that.  I think it would just be fun to fly because you get a whole different perspective of the earth from that atmosphere.  I have more interest in flying planes than a spaceship (laughs).  I would go up to space if I had the opportunity.

Family and Senior Photography | My 3 Girls Photography

BL:  What qualities or traits do you most admire in a leader? 

SB:  Someone that can take charge even though it’s with their friends.  So, like at the mini-THON this year, with a lot of friends, I really liked how the captain could tell her friends what to do while being nice about it.  Even though they’re her friends they still have to do what they’re supposed to do.  So, I really liked that because she wasn’t like, “Oh you’re my friend, so I’ll let you off the hook.”  She was still strong about it.  And another thing is just being kind and understanding because like some of the captains, they’re in a rough spot, so they needed help with something and they couldn’t come to every event because their family couldn’t do it, so I think it was nice that she was understanding about it.

Family and Senior Photography | My 3 Girls Photography

BL:  Your mom told me you’re a hunter.   

SB:  Yes, I am.  

BL:  What led you to become interested in hunting?

SB:  My Pappy.  My mom’s dad.  He’s a big hunter; he goes out to Colorado to hunt elk and he travels to Iowa.  So, when we were young he was always like “Look at what I got!”  We thought it was always cool when he would bring home a turkey with all the feathers on it and he’d give us a turkey feather or show us his antlers.  He has some of his deer mounted in his basement and it’s cool because it wouldn’t be scary because they’d put like the big glasses on them and necklaces; like really dress them up (laughs).  We just really got into it and then when I was 8 (questioning) he bought me my first bow.  So, that was cool.  

BL:  Is that what you use when you go hunting?

Family and Senior Photography | My 3 Girls Photography

SB:  No.  Bow season is right in the middle of school season, so I can’t really go.  But when he bought me that it was so cool to actually have something of your own and really use it.  He had a deer target and it was fun just to shoot at that and with him.  So, then as we got older we started using the guns and stuff that you can use.  Last year, it was our first time actually able to go out hunting, well, he always took us turkey hunting when we were little, but we never saw anything (laughing).  We would hear stuff, but nothing would ever come to us.  So, last year, we went deer hunting and I didn’t get anything, but my sister did.  I was really mad about that.  (laughs)  She didn’t even want to go, but she got something, a doe.  This year I went out and I got …

BB:  You went out by yourself. 

SB:  Yea, I went out by myself.  I had a free weekend, so I said I’m gonna go hunting.  I drove up by myself [to Raystown Lake] because that’s where my grandparents live, stayed with them all weekend and went hunting on Saturday morning and I got this beautiful buck.  It’s 13 points which is beautiful! 

BL:  That’s huge, right?! 

SB:  Yea, I don’t think I’ve ever been more happy in my whole life!  Like, right when I got it I didn’t believe that I got it because then you have to go down right away, took a little bit, I was like “dangit!”  I thought I missed it.  So, I got ready to get another one and I got a doe and my Pappy looked over at me and said, “You got the buck!”  I was like, “No, no, I didn’t!”  He’s like, “Yea, you did!”  We were both SO happy!  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile so much in my life!  (laughing)  We were dancing and jumping up and down.  It was beautiful!  As we were getting closer to it, he was like “Dang, if I knew it was this big, I would’ve shot it before you!”  I was the only girl that went out hunting because he always goes out with a group of guys and they were all so shocked.  They were all like, “Did you really get this?! Or did your Pap get it and give it to you?!”  I was like, “No! I got this! This is mine!”  It was cool to be a part of that.  

BB:  And we’re still eating it.  (laughing) 

SB:  It’s just nice being outside.  Nobody’s up that early usually when you go which is hard (big smiles), but when you’re up that early you actually get to see the forest come alive.  You sit down in your spot and as the hours are gone more things start moving and it’s beautiful.  It’s beautiful.

Family and Senior Photography | My 3 Girls Photography

BL:  So, what sort of a gun do you use when you’re deer hunting?  

SB:  A deer rifle. 

BL:  Ah, okay.  You’re talking to someone that has no clue about this sort of thing. (we’re all laughing)

BB:  It has a lot to do with the bullets so that it would kill the deer

SB:  You’re supposed to use deer rifles.  It’s not like a BB gun that spews.  It’s just one bullet that goes straight through. 

BL:  Gotcha.  

SB:  And some have a scope.  Mine had a scope.  But you usually don’t get anything if you don’t have a scope (laughing) because it’s hard to see.

BL:  I’m wondering, given the, without getting too political, even though you’d have to live under a rock not to notice what’s happening lately with all the talk about gun safety.  I’m curious to know, from your stand point [as a hunter], do you feel it’s important to have stricter laws passed (such as background checks, registration, training, mental health evaluation)? 

SB:  Most of the things that are happening are with guns that are semi-automatics and nobody needs a semi-automatic.  The only people that need them are the people in the Army and they’re going to war.  Really, when you’re hunting, you don’t even need a semi-automatic.  If you do, you’re just cheating.  Like anybody can go out into the woods with a semi-automatic, you’re gonna kill anything because all you really do is try to aim and you’ll hit it. 

BB:  Also, then you destroy the animal. 

SB:  You can’t even use it to eat it.  

BL:  Oh!  I didn’t even think about that!

BB:  It’s all shredded and you can’t eat it with all the shrapnel.  

SB:  The pieces you can eat are usually full of little bullets.  

BL:  Ewww!  Gross! 

SB:  Honestly, I don’t think there’s any need for those types of guns.  Even some of the guns that some people use to hunt, you don’t really need them.  All you really need is the standard deer rifle, or a shotgun if you’re hunting turkey or pheasant.  Yes, if someone has a mental illness, I don’t think they should have a gun.  And the whole point with protecting your family, I get having a gun for that, but you don’t use a semi-automatic for that.  There’s no need for anybody to have a semi-automatic at all.  Background checks are important and for a hunter you actually have to have a license to get the certain types of hunting guns, which is smart.  But for people just protecting their family I think they need a background check to get one. 

BB:  Skyler had to go through a class.  

SB:  I took a safety class.  My sister and I took it when we were 13 and she was 11, or something.  There’s a certain age requirement.  My Pappy just waited until my sister was old enough so we could take it together.  But you have to get a certain percentage on the test and if you don’t pass it you have to take the course again.  You keep taking it until you pass it.  Because they obviously want you to have it right.  Part of the test is paper where you actually have to respond to multiple choice, but another part is this piece of wood shaped like a gun; it doesn’t do anything, and they throw frisbees out and you have to aim at it.  There are people next to you making sure that you’re not turning around with your gun and pointing at someone.  There’s that whole part of it for the hunter’s safety course.  It’s a test, so people are always nervous.  So, they get to see how people react with a gun when you’re nervous.  It’s a piece of wood (laughs), but still. 

BL:  That’s good. I’m glad to hear that. 

Family and Senior Photography | My 3 Girls Photography

BL:  My Emilia, she’s [now 9], has some questions for you.  She wants to know what’s your favorite food? 

SB:  Pasta and chicken.  I love those two together.  I like pasta because it’s nice and light.  Chicken has… I don’t know, it’s just good, and you can cook it different ways.  So many things you can do with it.  

BL:  What’s your favorite class?  

SB:  That’s hard.  I don’t know.  I think my favorite class this year would have to be Chemistry.  I’m in the AP class now, so it’s really hard, but I really like the teacher.  She really is there for her students and is always helping.  It’s my second year having her, so, obviously I get along with her.  It’s really nice because she understands you’re a high school kid you have other things to do.  I get Chemistry, too.  It clicks, which is nice.  

BL:  That is great.

BL:  What is your favorite color?

SB:  Red. 

BB:  It’s always been red. 

BL:  Do you have a favorite musical group?  Or artist? 

SB:  NF.  That’s the stage name.  

BL:  What kind of music is that?

SB:  It’s like rap, but not bad rap.  He doesn’t swear in any of his songs at all.  I like the meaning behind his songs.  Some of his songs are sad, but some really do have meaning and it just opens your eyes.  

BB:  Some are religious.  

SB:  Which is nice because it’s not, like some other rap.  He’s probably my top.  But then I also like Florida Georgia Line, which is country, with Marshmello. 

BL:  Last question!  What advice do you have for young girls?  

SB:  Not to get caught up in everything.  Take some days and just enjoy it.  Some days, I get so stressed because I have a test, and this work, and this essay to write, but like I feel so much better when I take a few minutes and go outside.  Or take an hour and play volleyball or go to a practice or something.  I feel like just take some time for yourself, even when you’re super busy that’s when you need it the most.  I know, some nights I’m up so late and I’m like, “I just need a break.”  I remember the one night I had a huge chem test the next day and my friends were all going out to eat at PJ’s for half price wings and I was so stressed.  Okay, I just need to take a break, so I went out with them and I had so much fun.  When I came back, I felt so refreshed and I could actually focus.  So, that’s the best advice - to take a break and have fun (laughs).

My gratitude (yet again) runneth over for all the key people involved in placing Skyler in my path.  Number one is Mrs. Rebekah Marconi, one of the Wilson High School's Counselors who went above and beyond the call of duty to gather a terrific long list of bright young women to refer me to for this project.  Her enthusiasm and additional work (on top of all the other many things counselors are in charge of doing for the students) she made time to do for me is tremendously appreciated.  Thank you, Mrs. Marconi! 

I am deeply grateful to Beth Burnham for your trust, willingness to make time by coming to my studio for our interview and portraits, and for sharing your brilliant girl with me.  I learn so much through each of these projects I am granted - and without a doubt - each and every girl I've met has a devoted, caring and inspiring mom by their side!  Kudos to you!!  Keep up the amazing work of raising incredible girls. 

And to you, Skyler, my deepest appreciation for your infectious positivity, your beautiful smile and for being so graciously accommodating in answering some "tender" questions and allowing me to share with everyone here.  As someone who appreciates an interesting topic to discuss in order to learn new things, see a subject from a different perspective, you certainly shed new light on these ol' eyes of mine. ;)  I wish you well, the best of everything, and that your desire to solve problems will not only stay with you, but will drive your curiosity straight on into your soaring future!  Keep that light shining brightly, I know you will!  Thank you!!   

My 3 Girls Photography | Family Child and Senior Photography

Year of the Girl: Ashley Feiler

Year of the Girl, a personal project I've embarked upon seeking out girls making a difference in the community, doing what they love.  I interview them for tidbits of wisdom that only they have, and then I make portraits of them to share with them and with all of you.  At it's core, "Year of the Girl" is a human interest project which seeks to empower young girls, their voices, their desires/dreams for the future, their unique qualities in order to offer other girls (and women alike) role models, inspiration, motivation, strength. 

I met Ashley Feiler, a 15-year-old sophomore, high honors student who maintains a 4.3 GPA, thespian and vocal musician, attending Wilson High School in West Lawn, PA on a brisk, windy Saturday morning in early March.  We were granted access to the auditorium where we met for our interview and portrait shoot.  Ashley's mom, Teresa Feiler was in attendance and also my middle daughter, Alanna happily joined us, too.    

Here are some excerpts from the interview piece, peeks into Ashley's busy life, I was so generously granted... 

BL: What do you most look forward to coming up this spring?

AF: Coming up this spring, definitely, our school musical.  We’re doing Urinetown this year, which has got kind of a hard sell, as you can tell from the title, but honestly, we’ve been going through rehearsals and it’s really coming together nicely and it’s such a good show.  I love working with all the people, everybody is so talented and it’s just…

BL:  Wait.  What’s it called again? 

AF:  It’s called Urinetown.

TF:  Spell it. 

AF:  U-R-I-N-E-T-O-W-N. 

BL:  Oh, wow, like urine town.  Wait a minute my brain can’t even... 

AF:  Yea, (laughs) It’s like a satire.  Just a brief synopsis - it takes place in the future and this town, "Urinetown," is running out of water, so this big corporation is in charge of rationing the water.  And so what happens is people have to pay to use the bathroom and so obviously the poor don’t like this and the people up top are the rich and they're in charge and so there’s this big revolt and it’s all kind of making fun of like modern society and politics, but it’s .. it’s such a good show.  I promise.  It’s so funny.  It really is.  It’s a Tony award winning show. 

BL:  When will it be playing? 

AF:  I believe it’s the last weekend of April, the 26th, 27th, and 28th.  (Ticket information)

BL:  It’s exciting!  We’ll have to come!

AF:  You definitely should. 

Ashley Feiler (c) My3GirlsPhotography

BL:  How do you balance your studies, extra curriculars and friends? 

AF:  I’ve been busy since I was little, so it’s just something I’ve learned to work with and I guess it’s just very important to maximize the time you do have.  So, if you have rehearsal starting at 4, I like to stay an hour after school.  I would stay in the library and try and get as much done as possible.  But I think it’s all about priorities and sometimes knowing when you have to go to bed and maybe not finish that one assignment and just get it done maybe tomorrow morning instead because you have to remember that sometimes your own health is more important than the other things that you’re doing.

Ashley (c) My3GirlsPhotography

BL:  I see you’re very interested in singing and the choir; have you received any formal training?  

AF:  I haven’t ever gone to a voice teacher, if that’s what you’re asking, but… 

BL:  Yes.

AF:  In the chorus I belong to out of school, Berks Youth Chorus... they focus a lot on training you, especially from a young age they teach you what the correct way to sing is.  Obviously, it’s not the same as going to a voice teacher where they work with you independently and they get all into the technique, but I think it was a really good place to start for me because it wasn’t just a place where everybody came together and sang.  They really taught you some good ways to improve which I think was, like, crucial in getting to where I am now. 

TF:  She’s been doing that since 4th grade.

BL:  Wow.  That’s great.  You must love it. 

AF:  It really is fun. 

BL:  So, when did you first start singing?

AF:  4th grade is when I started in my first official choir, Berks Youth Chorus, but I’ve sang in church for years before that.  I did Calvary Kids since I was real little.  It’s just always kind of been a part of who I am.  Especially choral singing, like, I never did too much on my own, but I was always part of a group.

BL:  So do you do solos?

AF:  I do sometimes.  I actually get stage fright pretty often which is why choral singing is more up my alley because you’re always kind of surrounded by a bunch of people.  Yea, see she agrees with me (referring to Alanna), but I do do solos like at church, that sort of thing which is pretty low pressure environment and I try out for a few solos during our regular concerts, just small things.  It’s nice.  It’s a little bit of a challenge for me to get out of my comfort zone a bit and to kind of show off a little bit because you know this is something that I’ve worked really hard at. 

TF:  What about 8th grade?  She had the lead in the school musical, Grease, in 8th grade! 

AF:  That’s my claim to fame.  “Sandy” in Grease (laughing) in 8th grade. 

BL:  Wow! That’s amazing! 

TF:  She was amazing! (big smiles)

AF:  Thanks, Mom!  (big smiles!)

Ashley 002 (c) My3GirlsPhotography

BL:  So, I see you also have a very strong interest in the theater and acting; when did you discover this about yourself? 

AF:  Well, the first time I did this was either second or third grade and our music teacher I think was Mrs. Bishop at the time was asked to select like four or five of us from our class to be in the high school musical because the high school was doing the Wizard of Oz.  So, a bunch of the elementary schools were giving some of their best musicians.  “Best musicians” I say, (laughs)…

TF:  For second grade.  (everyone’s smiling and laughs)

AF:  But, yea, some of the people could tell they cared a lot and they were going to be Munchkins in the school play.  So, I remember I got to be in one scene on this very stage when Dorothy was leaving on the yellow brick road.  A bunch of my friends and I from all over the district we got together and we learned this dance to the Wizard of Oz and we sung and, oh my gosh, it was so much fun and that was the first time that I did it.  And I really wasn’t in another, like, school show until, what?  Seventh grade?  But yea that was my first taste of it and it was so much fun. 

BL:  And then the "Theater Bug" bit you. Right?

AF:  Yea. (smiling)

BL:  Playing a lead role, how does that help you grow as an actor? 

AF:  Oh man.  Umm...  

BL:  Or do you feel that it does help you grow? 

AF:  No, it definitely does.  I mean, I would say, for me personally, its a lot with that stage fright thing because it puts you in the spotlight, but in a way it almost helps you grow as an ensemble member because you learn the importance of every role, of every range ‘cause going from an ensemble to a lead role you learn those dynamics in between and so as a lead role you start to figure out, like, okay, I’m listed as the lead, but honestly how much of this could happen without everybody else who is in this show.  So, it kind of puts a lot into perspective. 

BL:  I’m sure.  That’s great.

BL:  Is there anything special you do to prepare before a performance?  

AF:  Well, for choir concerts it’s more of me just trying to calm myself down.  So, I’ll listen to music, or something like that, something relaxing.  But one fun thing we do for theater company is that before the show we meet out in the hall and we do a few exercises.  We like shake everything out and we do lunges and that sort of thing and then we do a ritual.  It’s called the "Prune Pumpkin Face."  All the seniors get in the middle and everybody else forms a circle around them and so we all go “Prune!” and you scrunch up your face and you close your eyes and all the seniors walk around on the inside of the circle and they find someone that they stand in front of and then when you go “Pumpkin Face!” you like make a big expression and you pop out your hands and then a senior may or may not be right in front of your face.  It’s really fun.  It’s just kind of a way to get the jitters out and it’s a way to acknowledge them and everything they’ve done.  So, that’s a really cool little habit that we have. 

BL:  That sounds like fun! 

BL:  So, things change.  At this time in your life where do you see yourself in 3 to 5 years?  Like, what would you like to study later? 

AF:  In 3 to 5 years, well, I would definitely like to go to college.  Honestly, this is something that I’ve been trying to work out for a while.  I’m not really sure.  One thing I’ve always been drawn to, because music is such a big passion of mine, I’ve always considered that as a potential career option.  I’ve always kind of wanted to be a teacher because I just really love kids and I’ve found myself through the years kind of being a bit of a teacher to my friends and that’s just something that I really am drawn to.  So, possibly being a music teacher or really a teacher of any subject.  Recently I was looking up different colleges, that sort of thing, it’s a fun way for me to pass the time.  I know it’s kind of out there (laughs), but I found a major called Cognitive Science and I’ve really been interested in psychology and that sort of thing and it takes elements of that.  It’s all about how the mind works.  You take, like, psychology and neuroscience and linguistics and you kind of combine everything in order to get one of the best understandings of the mind possible and I thought that was really cool.  And, honestly, I could use something like that to then become a teacher.  You know, I mean…

BL:  Definitely.  It would help in all aspects. 

AF:  Yea, I’ve found that I just want to learn so much about everything that it’s really hard to pick something and something like that would combine a lot of different elements.  So, yea…

BL:  That’s exciting.  

AF:  We’ll see (laughs).

BL:  I know things change.  Definitely.  And especially, you’re young, there’s so many options out there for you and so many things to think about, but you still want to be a kid.  Ya know?  It’s preparing you for later.  It’s a hard juggling act, isn't it? 

AF:  Yea.  The way schools push it on you, ya know, like, even in 8th grade I remember going to career fairs and teachers telling us, like, look when you go to high school you need to pick classes that will lead you down this path to get to the college to get to the career that you want.  I mean, they do put so much pressure on us.  They make it seem like you need to know what you’re doing by age 12.  (Looking at Alanna) So, you better have figured out what your career’s gonna be for the next 30 years, like, right now. (everyone’s laughing).  But honestly, it’s really not, don’t put too much pressure on yourself.  Just kind of enjoy it.  Take classes that you know you’re going to enjoy because if you do that you’ll end up somewhere you’re having fun.

BL:  And learning at the same time. 

AF:  Exactly.

BL:  What life lessons do you feel have helped to prepare you to be a leader in your community? 

AF:  Oh man.  What life lessons? 

BL:  Or any situations that you’ve been in maybe that have helped you to be who you are now. You are a leader, even though you may not acknowledge that, you know there are young girls who are looking up to you. 

AF:  Thank you. 

AL:  Like me! (everyone’s laughing)

AF:  Aww, that’s so sweet of you!  I guess, some of the most important things that I’ve learned are just to always stay humble, I think.  I think a great leader is not someone who stands up and shouts like, “I’m the best! You should follow me!” Like, no. You should stay humble and realize that nobody’s perfect and while you do have to step up sometimes, like, you don’t .. I don’t know how to phrase it..  Just, just.. 

BL:  Do your thing, right? 

AF:  Yea, and just always do everything kind of with a smile, you know.  I’ve found that people remember you because of your attitude and if you’re a happy person that’s what people will remember about you and people are more likely to agree with and follow someone that they feel listens to them and does things with a positive attitude and I can’t think of any specific time when that may have popped up, but I’ve always done my best to try and stay optimistic about everything and I think that’s really important because there’s a lot of times when life can really get you down and it’s important to just kind of find the silver linings in everything and I think that will reflect when you are a leader because people see that you’re trying to make the best out of certain situations and they’re willing to go along with that.  

BL:  Fair enough.  Yes, I agree. 

BL:  Emilia [my youngest daughter] wants to know, what’s your favorite food? 

AF:  Mac ’n Cheese.  By far, oh… yea. 

BL:  Uh oh. (pointing towards Alanna)

AF:  Oh yea, you too?!  (everyone’s giggling).  It’s delicious.  My dad makes mac ’n cheese with hot dogs in it and that is a treat.  I will tell you.  

BL:  She [Emilia] wants to know what’s your favorite class?

AF:  My favorite class.  I really like English.  My teacher, Mrs. Genova, she’s great.  I love her so much.  We get to read a lot of books in this English class and I really love reading.  So far this year we’ve read Life of Pi.  The thing with this class is that we have so many good discussions.  Like, what I found before in English class is that you read the book, you take a test on it.  It’s not very fun.  But in this class we really get to delve into everything that we read and that’s really exciting for me.  

BL:  And she wants to know who you’re favorite Disney character is?  

AF:  Oh boy.  Like any Disney character?  It doesn’t have to be a princess?   

BL:  No.  It doesn’t.

TF:  When she was little, her wish was to be a princess. 

BL:  Right?  All little girls want to be a princess.  

AF:  (giggling) I would have to say that my favorite Disney character is Mushu from Mulan.  I love him.  He has so many good lines throughout the movie.  He’s so funny.  I just love him.  I mean, I love all the Disney characters.  

BL:  He’s a good sidekick. Right? 

AF:  Yea! 

BL:  What’s your best advice to young girls? 

AF:  I would say just do what makes you happy.  And, you know, other people have very valuable advice so listen to what other people have to say, but ultimately it’s going to be your life so do what you like and take other peoples opinions with a grain of salt because, I mean, as I said, they can have very valuable advice that’s good to listen to, but you can’t base your self worth and your own passions on what other people tell you you should or should not like so just do what you love.

(c) my3girlsphotography

My gratitude runneth over for all the key people involved in placing Ashley in my path.  Number one is Mrs. Rebekah Marconi, one of the Wilson High School's Counselors who went above the call of duty to gather a terrific long list of bright young women to refer me to for this project.  Her enthusiasm for this project and additional work (on top of all the other many things counselors are in charge of doing for the students) she made time to do for me is tremendously appreciated. 

And to the Facilities Coordinator, Caryn Croll, for granting us access to the auditorium on a cold, blustery March morning.  And the janitors who were so patient with us - who rightfully could have chased us out since our time ran over, thank you! 

Warm, abundant gratitude to Mrs. Teresa Feiler for your trust and willingness to welcome this project of mine highlighting your amazing Ashley.  You've done an outstanding job in your guidance of your bright, warm-hearted, talented daughter.  I am simply humbled by this experience and forever grateful to you.

And most especially terrific appreciation and gratitude to you, Ashley.  Your wisdom is beyond your years.  You have such a calm presence, natural gift for bringing out the best in everyone in your midst (I have never seen Alanna - my quiet, shy girl - take to someone so quickly, or easily! Seriously, I was a bit shocked!).  You've gained so much insight already into the world and you've managed to keep it grounded, real, yet able to dream with such passion for the immense possibilities life holds for you and your generation.  I'm in awe of you.  Thank you so very much for sharing so freely with me and my Alanna and for all who look up to you.  We'll look forward to seeing you at the show in April!!!        

If you know of a girl that would be a good fit for Year of the Girl, please get in contact with me!  I'm open to your suggestions, friends.  We need to hear from more high-achieving girls driven for success.  Thank you!  

Year of the Girl: Peyton McDaniel

Year of the Girl, a personal project I've embarked upon seeking out girls making a difference in the community, doing what they love.  I interview them for tidbits of wisdom that only they have, and then I make portraits of them to share with them and with all of you.  At it's core, "Year of the Girl" is a human interest project which seeks to empower young girls, their voices, their desires/dreams for the future, their unique qualities in order to offer other girls (and women alike) role models, inspiration, motivation, strength.  

I met Peyton McDaniel, a 15-year-old sophomore, who maintains a 4.3 GPA, student athlete, attending Twin Valley High School in Elverson, PA on a crisp Saturday morning in February in her high school gymnasium.  Her mom, Holly Hubert and one of Peyton's coaches, Nate Mensak, were also in attendance for our interview/shoot.  I brought my middle daughter, Alanna along as well.  Even some of her teammates made an appearance to cheer Peyton on!  Here are excerpts from the interview, peeks into Peyton's life, I was so warmly granted...

BL:  How do you balance your school work during a busy basketball season?

PM:  It’s not that hard.  I just try and get my homework done before practice, so I stay after school everyday and then have like 3 hours before practice, that’s when I do all my homework.  

BL:  How often do you practice [basketball]? 

PM:  Everyday.

BL:  When did you start playing basketball?

PM:  I was five.

BL:  Five?!! 

HH:  It was through the YMCA’s program at Robeson Elementary.  Mrs. Davanzati and I were the coaches.  We’d have games on Friday nights and [the kids] were good. 

PM:  We were good. (smiling)

Peyton storyboard 002.jpg

BL:  Do you do anything special before a big game?  Rituals?  Superstitions?  Prayer?  Mindset to help prepare you?

PM:  Yea, I eat before a game (laughs).  I always put my hair in a ponytail.  And Heihei (the beloved rooster from the film, Moana) is always at all of our games.  Me and Ava always split half of a pretzel before a game.  That always works out.  Shoot.  Start shooting.  (laughing)  Oh yea, and when we go to tournaments and we win a game.  Well, when my mom always tries to wash the uniform, but you can’t wash the success out of it (laughs).  So, I don’t like it when she washes my uniform, so I just wear it again.  It’s good defense.  

BL:  That’s right!  Then they stay clear away.  (laughing). 

PM:  These ones are clean though (pointing to her uniform, laughing). 

BL:  When you traveled [overseas with the Student Athlete World Organization] last summer to compete in the United World Games, what parts of Europe did you visit?

PM:  Austria, Italy, and Germany.  We flew into Germany and then traveled to the other parts.  All the games were played in Austria.  

BL:  And you played with other Americans from around the country?  

PM:  Yes, there was a girl from California, Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia, Texas.   

BL:  How did you become chosen for that special honor?  Did you have to apply for it?

PM:  It was a long process.  

HH:  It took about 2 to 3 months. She just got an email invitation to apply.  She had to submit her initial information and once that goes through, she had to write a bio about yourself explaining why she wanted to be a part of this, and if that’s accepted than you submit school transcripts to make sure you’re an honorable student.  And if that’s accepted, than she had to go get letters of recommendation from different coaches and teachers.  And if that’s accepted than she had to go through an interview on the phone.  So, out of 13,000 [Student Athlete World Team USA] applicants [Peyton] was the 2nd to be chosen  They take eight girls.

BL:  Wow.  That's amazing!

Peyton McDanieal 02.10.18-16 resized.jpg

BL:  Speaking of your Europe trip, what most impressed you about that experience?

PM:  Probably the connections that you make because I’m still in touch with all of the girls I played with.  That was really fun.  

HH:  I think it makes you appreciate America too.  Because every morning she woke up and cried “I just need Chick-fil-A!” 

PM:  Oh my gosh, yea. It’s just like crazy.  They don’t put ice in their water.  They have still water and gassed water.  Gassed water is just like carbonated flavored water like we have, but it’s not flavored, so all you taste is bubbles.  It’s so disgusting.  It’s so bad.  I ate corn flakes and pineapple every morning.  Corn flakes and pineapple.  Dry, no milk.  (we’re all laughing).  We won seven games with that, [coach] Nate.  

NM:  (laughing) Hey, if it worked for ya. 

PM:  It did. 

HH:  After they won the first, then again, if you’re winning.  Like the last 2 weeks of the season, I had to get a Weaver’s sandwich for her every single game before they played because once she had it and they won, than you have to do it again and again.  God bless Weaver’s. 

NM:  They make great sandwiches.  

BL:  Yes, they do. 

Peyton McDanieal 02.10.18-15 resized.jpg

BL:  What would you have changed about the Europe trip?  

PM:  Put Chick-fil-A there. (everyone’s laughing) I mean, they have McDonald’s, but… no.  [The trip] was good just the way it was. 

BL:  What did you like best? 

PM:  Probably just being with my team and experiencing the people there, ‘cause some of them really don’t like Americans and it’s really funny.  (laughing)  We would always try and speak German to them and they would just look at us.  There were many [characters].

BL:  So, when you’re not playing ball or working on your school studies, what do you enjoy doing?  

PM:  Hanging out with the other girls on my team ‘cause I’m always [in the gym at school].  When I’m not here I’m with them.

HH:  When you’re not here (at school) you’re begging to be here. 

PM:  Ah, yea.  Or I’m texting Nate!  Shooting machine!! 

NM:  (Laughing)

PM:  Shooting machine.  I love that thing.

BL:  What do you do to relax? 

PM:  Shooting machine.  Yea, definitely the shooting machine. 

Peyton storyboard 001.jpg

BL:  What does teamwork mean to you? 

PM:  You know, always having each other’s backs and working together.  Because I feel like our team really had that this year.  I mean, we wouldn’t have been able to win 22 games without it.  Always have your teammates back.

BL:  Who has most influenced you? 

PM:  This is hard.  Umm..  Okay, I have a lot of people.  Can I say multiple people? 

BL:  Of course!  Yes, please.

PM:  Definitely my parents, then Coach Morrow and Nate, and then, my teammates because they always push me in practice

BL:  Do you have anyone in particular that you admire, like another athlete?

PM:  Like famous? 

BL:  Yea.

PM:  Definitely Steph Curry because I love Steph Curry.  (smiling) Definitely. 

HH:  How about Ashley Hoffman? 

PM:  Oh, yea, definitely Ashley Hoffman.  I’ve known her for a really long time.  She used to babysit me at my mom’s school and I’ve always kind of looked up to her. 

BL:  Is she an athlete?  

PM:  Yes, she goes to UNC and plays field hockey.  

HH:  She was on a U21 USA team. She’ll probably be in the next set of Olympics. 

PM:  She’s really good.  Yea, so I’ve always kind of looked up to her.  She’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet. 

BL:  My 8 year-old, Emilia, wants to know:  What’s your favorite food?  

PM:  Tacos.  I love tacos. Oh my gosh. 

BL:  Emilia loves tacos too.  She’s going to love that answer. 

PM:  I love tacos. 

BL:  Emilia’s question: What’s your favorite class? 

PM:  Umm, okay, well I don’t know.  Lunch.  

BL:  Lunch?  (everyone’s laughing)  That’s not a class!  

PM:  Umm, well, I can count that because I eat in every block, like I don’t stop eating throughout the day.  I’m always hungry.  But, if it’s like a fun class it’s definitely gym, but if it’s a serious class than it’s probably math. I like math better than anything else because I hate English, really bad.  I don’t like that class at all, like, it’s awful.  It shouldn’t be allowed. It should be illegal. 

BL:  Aww, why?  What don’t you like about it?

PM:  I don’t like writing essays and I hate reading.  I really do.  

BL:  It’s hard for you to concentrate?  Or sit still? 

PM:  I can’t just like sit there and read words.  Like, I don’t see how people think that’s fun.  I need to be doing something. 

HH:  Now mind you, she’s never gotten a “B.”  She’ll do it.  She’ll push through. 

PM:  Ah, yea.  But it’s torture.  (everyone’s laughing) 

BL:  Emilia wants to know what is your favorite holiday? 

PM:  Ooo, my favorite holiday?  Christmas.  Definitely Christmas. 

BL:  I think she would agree with you there too. 

PM:  I love Christmas music. 

BL:  Do you feel that there’s any challenges that may be met differently being a girl?  Are there any specific challenges you might have being a girl in high school? 

HH:  As a student athlete.  

PM:  I don’t know how to answer this one (laughs).  I don’t have any challenges.  Not like that at least.  Not at school.  I mean I just talk to basketball people.  Like some people are crazy, they try to do this, that and the other, trying to be popular and I, I could care less.  I really could.  Just chill.  Go to class.  Go to basketball.  Do some homework.  Eat some food.  Seems to be working out for me (laughing).  

BL:  Well, you’re happy.  You’ve found your niche so that probably helps a tremendous amount.  I’m sure.

PM:  Yea.

BL:  What’s your best advice to young girls? 

PM:  Definitely, just follow your dreams.  If you, like have always had a dream of doing something, like I mean, I’ve not always, but when I started watching basketball, I kind of always had the dream to go Pro.  Or to do something like that.  Never give up because there’s always going to be times where you’re like “oh my gosh, this is awful,” but you just have to push through because you find that awful door it opens a new door and you find something even better and you’re like, “Wow, I’m glad that I didn’t stop.”  You know, because even at the beginning of this season, like, the first loss we had that was awful, but you can say if we hadn’t had that first loss we would have had a bigger loss later.  Now, we’ve won 22 straight.  You’re like “whoa, that meant something.”  You’ll get frustrated, a lot, like I’ve been frustrated plenty of times.  A lot.  A lot.  But it’s definitely worth it. 

Mrs. Hubert reminded me in a follow up email -- last summer's United World Games was the first time in World Games history that US 16U Girls team won the gold.  CONGRATULATIONS, TEAM USA!!!  Way to go GIRLS!!!  

Special, humble thanks to Mrs. Holly Hubert for supporting me in this project - for jumping on board without hesitation, exhibiting your full trust in me.  I couldn't be more grateful.  

And thanks to Coach Nate Mensak for your leadership, your calming spirit throughout the interview, knowing how nervous we all were.  And for sharing your laughter and good nature.

Most especially, heartfelt gratitude to you, Peyton McDaniel.  I am in complete awe of your strength, your commitment to the game and your beloved teammates and to your family and school.  You were such a joy to photograph and get to know better.  I can't thank you enough for this glimpse into a champion mindset.  You shine brightly!!    

P.s.  If you know of a girl that would be a good fit for Year of the Girl, please get in contact with me!  I'm open to your suggestions, friends.  We need to hear from more high-achieving girls driven for success.  Thanks! 

P.p.s.  In hindsight, Peyton wants her English teacher to know "no hard feelings and no offense is meant to you and your teaching skills." :)