When Toni Belfrey began her job as a student learning advocate at Anoka High School (AHS) three years ago, she learned that female students wanted a place to talk about concerns and issues and the school was looking to start a women’s group. Belfrey said she offered to be the adviser and it took off from there.
The group is called Alpha Omega Alpaha, Belfrey said, because it is universal and always there. Open to all female students, the group comprises almost all students of color. Belfrey, one of three women staff members of color at AHS, said the group works to close the racial gap at the school.
“It’s important to teach different backgrounds and to take away stereotypes and prejudices,” Belfrey said. “Starting this group is one way to do that.
“The administration has been very supportive of this group because it’s breaking down conflict issues and breaking down the separation gap amongst students of color. Our group is showcasing that we can be comfortable with someone who does not mirror ourselves.”
Belfrey got the group going by referrals from teachers and counselors. Others she sought out because she thought they would be beneficial to the group.
“Every member of Alpha Omega Alpha has a different story and different background,” Belfrey said. “I want my group to benefit from all walks of life and to benefit from this group before they go off into the real world. I want to empower them to be the best in whatever they want to be in life.”
In addition to helping the girls on an individual level, it also connects them with each other and the school. The group meets every other Friday and the 35 girls take part in fund-raisers, such as a toy drive right before the holidays.
“The group helps the students connect to each other because they find a sense of purpose, friendship, support and resources; all that helps the girls do better in their school work,” Belfrey said. “We are here to help each other. If we are OK we can focus our minds on school.”
Sophomore Alejandra Procopio was invited to join the group. She likes that the group talks about a variety of issues, from personal to academic, and that they do volunteer activities like the toy drive and working at Feed My Starving Children.“I like how close we get to be,” Procopio said. “This is a group where you can tell people how you feel and we learn a lot. And I like that I can go to Ms. Belfrey for help.”
Alpha Omega Alpha has introduced Procopio to other girls she might not have met. The group has a big sister/little sister component that matches up freshmen and sophomores with juniors and seniors. Procopio feels that her big sister is another person she can go to if she needs anything.
Through the group, Procopio said she is also getting a lot of ideas for after high school. As a whole, the group talks about colleges and scholarship opportunities; the girls as individuals share their personal plans for college. As of now, Procopio is thinking about going into cosmetology, being a kindergarten teacher or perhaps doing missionary work.
Overall, Procopio loves being a part of Alpha Omega Alpha.
“I like that we get to talk with Ms. Belfrey because she is one of three minority women teachers at the school,” Procopio said. “As a Hispanic girl in the school, I am able to relate to her. I see that she has motivation and gets through things even if they are hard. I see her as a role model, she’s really encouraged us.”
Kita Moore, an AHS 2012 graduate, was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha for three years. She said she joined the group because as a woman of color, she wanted to share the struggles she had and show younger girls how to overcome obstacles in their lives. If group members were getting into trouble, Moore said Belfrey would talk with the group and show them the way they were supposed to go. Moore likes that the group is open to anyone who wants to talk about issues.
“I visited the group today and I saw a variety of women of color; I like that,” she said. “When I was here, I felt like people thought it was just African American and just talked about our problems. I always pushed for other women to come in. I see the group has grown and that makes me happy.”
Looking back at her time at AHS, Moore said Alpha Omega Alpha helped her to feel more connected with the school. Being a member of the group helped Moore to see others points of view and to look at situations differently. Currently working full time, Moore is saving money to study nursing at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. As an alum, Moore encourages current women to join the group.
“Freshmen are not always open to groups at Anoka High School,” Moore said. “I want them to encourage them to get out there and join the women’s group because it will help them down the road in life.”