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CAG Blog: Powered by Optimism

"Powered by Optimism" captures my reflections of life in and around an all-girls' school and highlights the values of C.A.G.: leadership, global citizenship, wellness, and teaching and learning. Underscoring it all is a deeply ingrained sense of optimism that we are preparing a generation of boldly creative women who will help change the world. 


nashville to blog- 11.30.15

It has been a while since I last wrote for this blog. This fall has been filled with lots of travel, new professional challenges, and the busy-ness that is life in a girls’ school.

Among my travel adventures was a trip to Nashville, TN, where I had the great fortune to speak at Vision 2020’s National Congress. CAG is a national ally of Vision 2020, and its chair, Lynn Yeakel, is a CAG advisory board member.

Vision 2020 is a project that works to achieve parity between men and women by the year 2020. One way in which the organization does that, is by focusing on education.

I, and two esteemed colleagues, shared the stage as we informed the attending delegates about the current stage of education and the possible ways in which we can ensure that the next generation of women will enjoy the parity they deserve.

What follows is a version of my talk. It serves as a good reminder about the work we, at CAG, do every day, and why that work continues to be so important. I hope you enjoy it. And please, do be in touch - I love to hear from those who happen upon this blog.

A year ago I was in the thick of planning our first STEM conference. One beautiful fall day, three of our juniors walked into my office and said: “We understand that you are planning a STEM conference. We love STEM. We started a STEM club for upper school girls a year ago and we already have 40 members. And we volunteer weekly in the lower school to get girls excited about math. We want to be a part of your conference. “

Their confidence and their enthusiasm was simply awesome. So after I took a moment to recover from this unexpected interaction,  I said gently - “You do know that this will be just for adults and by adults? And you know this is happening during your spring break ?”

“Sure,” they told me. Not a problem on either front.

So I took a deep breath and I thought - well, what the heck. This is what it is about. This is why you come to work. You want girls to go for it. Have gumption. Be leaders. Love things not because society says they should love them but because they just do. Like science, technology, engineering, and math.

As a person who directs a research and programming center within an all girls’ independent school, I have the flexibility to do a lot of blue sky thinking and developing.

The focus of CAG is to identify through research those areas where the playing field is not yet level for girls, and to create programs and partnerships that will address and hopefully rectify those situations.

A big part of this work is centered around leadership development, as well as STEM programming. There is an obvious intersectionality between these two areas, of course, and I would like to explain a little of what we have learned in the past few years.

In my experience, here are the areas where we need to focus our efforts in order to move forward:


  • Help girls see that STEM fields are for them, too. This is done through curriculum development, but also through the messages we send girls outside of classrooms. It is buying toys that promote tinkering, and it is moms refraining from saying things like: “I was never good at math.”

  • It is giving girls access to role models and mentors. Ainissa Ramirez, who describes herself as a science evangelist,  promotes the idea that we all need to “see our reflection” in those professions to which we aspire. For girls and especially, girls of color, we need to make sure these women are in place - and consistently share with girls the journey they traveled to get to where they are now.

  • Creating partnerships. We are all in this together, and together, we are greater than the sum of our parts. One partnership, for example, that we were able to forge is with the UPenn School of Nursing. This has resulted in the creation of a seminar course for our seniors, called Global Health and the Girl Child.  Penn professors have resources and connections at their fingertips that a K-12 school simply does not.


  • And what about leading outside of STEM fields? What does it mean to be a girl who is also a leader?

  • Our philosophy has been to tackle this from the earliest ages. If you don’t believe you can, you won’t. And so our girls, starting in Kindergarten, learn to take on the identity of a leader. Leadership is not just action, it is also attribute. We teach girls as young as 5 that a leader is resilient, for example, and show them a bouncy ball in order to make the abstract, concrete. We tell them leaders need this resilience in order to face inevitable challenges. And when girls display resilient behavior, we point it out and celebrate it.

Let’s fast forward through the developmental pipeline to this past spring, when those three juniors came to see me to ask me if I would allow them to be a part of the STEM conference.

Here is the challenge I put forth to them: yes, they could talk about their passion. But I also wanted them to show the audience what they loved. So, the girls came up with the idea of building a geometric sculpture, with the audience, while they talked about their love of STEM.  They built an icosahedron - but before they were audience-ready, they needed to figure it out for themselves.

They spent hours figuring out the best materials to use for the challenge. Their first few attempts failed.  They had to cut the pieces of this icosahedron with a laser cutter in our Innovation Lab - a job that took them past midnight a few days before the conference. I admit to feeling quite guilty when I found this part out. But they smiled, told me it was ok, in that way that only girls do, and they forged on.

Resilience and determination were key ingredients of those days in preparation for their presentation.  And when I say they blew the audience away, I am not exaggerating.

They showed us what is possible, given the right environment and the right resources. And that is where we need to go as educators. Create the most advantageous environment and get out of girls’ way. It is as simple and as complicated as that.
Posted by alison on Monday November, 30, 2015 at 10:35AM

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