MPW.71 / 2019 Twelve in Boonville by Chloë Ellingson
Photographer
Chloë Ellingson Toronto, Canada
Team Chapnick

Story Summary

For Alyssa Thomas, a 12-year-old seventh grader, gearing up for the homecoming parade with her cheer team isn’t just about popularity or school spirit, it’s about strength and belonging within the complex social world of Laura Speed Elliot Middle School in Boonville.

After living in a town of 400 people until she was nine years old, Alyssa moved to Boonville. “I think moving here is probably the best thing we could have done,” said Alyssa’s mother, Candice Thomas. She feared that Alyssa, her youngest of six children, would not be adequately prepared for life beyond her small town, where classes were comprised of only a handful of students. 

Adjusting to Boonville’s social dynamics was a formidable challenge. Now, three years into her new life, Alyssa feels comfortable in her skin.

“She used to be very shy,” Candice said, who saw a transformation in her daughter once she began cheering with the girls on the middle school team. “You see a difference in them,” she said. “You see the self respect they have, the pride they have in something that’s bigger than just them.”

For Alyssa, Cheer brings respect from her peers and community. “They underestimate you, but once they see you in cheer, you can see that their minds are changing,” Alyssa said.