On a Wednesday afternoon in May at Success Academy Crown Heights, 15 fourth grade girls sat in a circle on a classroom rug, talking about the highs and lows of their past week and enjoying lunch. Among the highs: many are thrilled they’ll be taking home a goldfish from their science class this week. Among the lows: a disappointing performance on a science quiz and a dispute with a friend. After wrapping up lunch, Dachelie, a fourth grader and the day’s session leader, launches her peers into this week’s conversation topic: stereotypes. “What are some examples of stereotypes?” she asked. Across the room, hands shot up.
The girls are members of the SA Crown Heights Girls Group, the brainchild of special education teacher Cole Yaverbaum, who started the club during her first year teaching with a small group of second graders in 2014. Those same second graders are now heading to middle school. Girls Group offers scholars a place to discuss everything from racial inequality to friendships, to their future ambitions and social justice. The group has grown to include about 40 scholars from kindergarten to fourth grade, facilitated by a cadre of eight female teachers who believe in the importance of female empowerment.
“When we first started meeting, Girls Group was very informal, about ten girls would meet to talk and decompress a little outside of the classroom while sharing a snack,” said Cole. The following school year more scholars joined, and, with the help of the girls and teachers involved in the groups, Cole started the process of writing a 20-session curriculum with activities designed to get girls thinking critically about female empowerment, personal identity, and depictions of girls in the media. This year and last year, she put out the call to the school’s teachers to get involved in the club, and both years the response has been positive. “Teachers at our school understand the importance of a space where girls get to speak their minds and discuss their lives in a judgement-free zone. So many of these girls came to Girl’s Group as quiet, shy, second graders, but today are talkative and confident,” said Cole.
Teachers at our school understand the importance of a space where girls get to speak their minds and discuss their lives in a judgement-free zone.
Dachelie is one example of a student who has benefited from the group’s mission. As she facilitates the group’s discussion, the conversation turns to how stereotypes are perpetuated by the media, specifically by magazines marketed to young women and girls. The Girls Group talked about the type of women that typically are chosen to grace the covers of these magazines, and what kind of stereotypes about girls were reinforced by these editorial decisions. Girls had created their own magazine covers to push back against these assumptions. Below, four fourth graders from SA Crown Heights Girls Group discuss the magazine covers they designed and what makes Girls Group so special.