Stories and insights on excellent education.
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.
“Girls Group to me is a place where I can trust everyone. We can share secrets we don’t tell anyone else. We all share a great bond — we’re practically sisters. During recess, we’ll meet up and talk about different things. I also help tutor first graders who are a little behind in their reading levels. It’s fun for me because I see them improve every time I meet with them, and because I love reading — mostly fiction books. The magazine cover I made for Girls Group shows that not only skinny girls belong on magazine covers. The magazine covers we usually see show girls who are skinny, in perfect shape, and with straight hair. I drew a curvier girl with curlier hair, and on her shirt it says, “I love myself.” This shows that she is confident in who she is, and wouldn’t trade her personality for the world.”
“Girls Group is so much fun. It teaches us about the importance of kindness, and makes us understand stereotypes that exist about women. I met a good group of friends. They’re all nice and we sit together at lunch sometimes. It’s great to have a girls club because it teaches girls why it’s important to support each other and it gives us a fun activity to do. When I started Girls Group, I felt better and more connected to people, and it made me feel part of something after school. The magazine cover that I made shows two girls, one who’s more sporty, and one who’s into shopping. Some magazine covers we looked at only show girls wearing dresses or shopping, or on their phones, but this cover shows two girls who seem like opposites, but are still friends. I think it’s good to show that you don’t have to be the same as someone to be their friend.”
“I like going to Girls Group because it’s a quiet place you can go to talk about your feelings without anybody getting in your way. We show how girls can fix problems in the world, and undo a lot of stereotypes people have about girls — like they only enjoy shopping or art. People think that girls don’t like doing things like sports. But I like to do lots of different things, like travelling with my family, playing soccer, and swimming. My cover is showing what types of sports girls can do and encouraging other girls to do them!”
“I signed up for Girls Group in third grade. I like Girls Group because it lets me express what I feel. Talking with the group also helps me explain my feelings to my friends better and be more outspoken. When we study stereotypes, I realize that I can push back against them and I can be whatever I want to be. I talk to these girls at recess a lot, too. Since we’ve had this group since third grade, I’ve gotten to know everyone really well. My cover shows a girl who’s into science, like me. My favorite thing to study in science is animals and how they migrate. It’s important that magazines show women scientists too.”