The National Coalition of Girls Schools (NCGS) held their Annual Conference from June 22-24, 2015 at St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia. The theme was “From STEM to STEAM: Girls’ Schools Leading the Way.” Sally Mixsell, Head of School, attended along with science teachers Andrea Tehan Carnes and Meghan Lena, and Bill Ivey, Middle School Dean. Over the next few weeks, we plan to share our thoughts on what we learned and what we did.
I’m still on the email list for the 9th grade class, so when Eni ‘18 shared the agenda for Wednesday’s class meeting, I received a copy of the email. She also included a link to a Buzzfeed video, “I Am Not That Girl.” Curious, I clicked on the link, and found a video that began with a litany of insecurities that takes up over half of its 2’16”: “I’ve never been That Girl… That girl who knows how to flirt properly. That girl who knows how to put on make-up flawlessly. That girl who can post a photo to Instagram and not find a million insecurities lurking at the tips of her fingers as she presses the “Share” button...” Being judged and judging herself is not limited to her flaws, especially as subjected to a heteronormative male gaze, for “I know that I shouldn’t let these things define my femininity… And I’m always forced to ask myself, ‘What’s wrong with me?’” Eventually, though, the video shifts tone: “But maybe it’s because I was never destined to be That Girl. Maybe it’s because I was destined to be something more…”
In the MiddleTalk educators’ group, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School has become inseparably entwined with the question “What would you do if you were brave?” since my answer to that question when asked by group member Brenda Dyck more than a decade ago was “I would start a middle school.” One year later, of course, I became part of the committee that helped found SBMS.
Check “starting a middle school” off my to-do list!
"Hey, Bill's crying." I nodded quietly as the student reading her poem looked over at me and then continued.
The Humanities 7 class had just finished reading Part Four of I Am Malala and I had been at something of a loss for how to run the discussion. It's a short, painful section that begins immediately after the Taliban shot her for her advocacy of Western values (such as girls' education) and continues through her hopitalization in Pakistan to her being airlifted to England. I arrived in class prepared with several ideas for how to handle it, but it was only at the moment of truth that I decided to ask the students to write a poem in reaction to the section, telling them they would read their poem to the class but would not need to share it with me electronically. They set immediately to work, and eventually it was down to two students waiting for the last line of their poems to come to them. The others were already working independently on other things while waiting, so I could hope these students would not feel the pressure to stop before they genuinely felt ready.
By Ellen Carter, School Counselor
This piece was originally written last fall about the “Rejection Boot Camp” workshop given by Rachel Simmons; we are publishing it now as Ms. Simmons is about to return to our campus.
Rachel Simmons came to our school today to teach a “Rejection Boot Camp” workshop for upper schoolers at SBS. The focus of today was on debunking myths of perfectionism in our culture and helping students make personal goals. Students were encouraged to unearth the various ways in which societal expectations are created that effectively pull them into corners of self-doubt and fear of failure. We talked about what it really means to “be brave” and take risks, however small, in one’s life. Simmons emphasized the need for connection, not necessarily doing it on one’s own, but actually collaborating and seeking support. Students were encouraged to think about not only the brave acts in their lives and the healthy risks that they might take, but the aftermath and how they might respond to various failures that are bound to occur when we risk stepping outside our comfort zones. This workshop is about making goals, taking risks, and advancing with small, manageable steps towards reaching one’s goals. It is also about naming what is important to you, unearthing your authentic thoughts, desires, fears, and taking steps towards realizing something that is important to you and carrying it out.
With five teacher/advisors volunteering to chaperone the 8th graders on their annual trip to Washington, DC, it seemed only right for me to step up and sign up to sub in their absence. I got Andrea's 7th grade Science/Math class and Meghan's Junior IB Bio I class. We got off to a bit of a slow start in the 7th grade Pre-Algebra class as the 7th graders who were in the predominantly 8th grade Algebra 1 class downstairs were apparently baking, and there was a tidal wave of enthusiasm for the idea of our doing the same despite the fact that we had neither ingredients nor oven. But it wasn't long before I was tossing dry-erase markers to students to go put up their answers to the homework on the board before checking them over.
"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights." - Gloria Steinem (quoted on the “International Women’s Day” website)
"That Rock Band," a parent said, shaking his head. Clearly searching for words, he added, "Wow." It was not an uncommon reaction, and when I emailed my usual post-concert congratulations to the group, I told them about the moment and noted, "Yes, you performed that well; you literally left people speechless." It's true, from the first notes pounded out on the piano as they slammed through "Yoü and I" by Lady Gaga, through the last, sweet harmonies held over a cymbal roll and an echoing piano chord as they ended "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars et al, they were amazing, all of them: Bonnie, Charlotte, Heather, Jin, Joy, Joyce, McKim, Molly, Natalie, Olivia, and Susan. And when I pointed out that the vocalists wrote all the harmonies themselves, the speechless factor among audience members rose even higher.
This is just our first performance, just a few weeks into the year. While six members of last year's group returned and one moved up from the middle school band, four were brand new, and one of those was a complete beginner to her instrument. Yet, they came together so thoroughly and so rapidly that we chose and began working on our next two songs even before the first performance, something we have only rarely been able to do in the past.
“Education is a power for women.”
- Malala Yousafzai
“This question is hard!” a student good-naturedly pointed out to me. “You always ask such broad questions.” “Of course it’s hard,” I said. “I want you all to think, to think deeply, to - how do I put this? - learn things.” I gave her my “Call me crazy” shrug and she turned back to her discussion partner to figure out “What is a girl?”
Standing in line for food during Formal Dinner last week, I was approached by a new student, "S." '14 (her name has been withheld to protect her anonymity), whom I’d only known from house parenting duties. She told me, in her quiet manner, that my 11th graders’ English summer reading book, The Kite Runner, is her favorite novel. She continued by telling me that she is a Hazara, of the same tribe as Hassan, one of the significant characters in The Kite Runner, and that she has experienced similar discrimination growing up in Afghanistan as he has in the novel. As IB learners I thought that the girls would benefit from meeting "S." and hearing her story, as it relates to The Kite Runner, and I asked her if she would be interested in talking to both of my classes. "S." graciously, and without any hesitation, accepted my invitation.
"S." had prepared a Power Point presentation in advance and she began by giving us a brief history of Afghanistan and telling us about her family. She then proceeded by relating her experiences growing up in Afghanistan to The Kite Runner. The thing that struck me the most was that "S." at such a young age was able to talk about her difficult experiences with such clarity and in such an unblemished manner. She has already gained perspective and made sense of her country’s violent history and the effect it has had, and still has, on her family and her people. "S." has decided not to let her experience bring her down; instead she has been able to turn it into something positive. She told the class about her volunteer work at the same orphanage in which one of the characters in The Kite Runner grew up. She and her sisters have had the rare opportunity to pursue an education and "S." is a courageous and passionate advocate for girls’ education and women’s rights. At a very young age she has her goals set and is determined to make a change in the world.