Before teaching at Zealous Schools, I worked at another school for female-identifying, non-binary, and trans-male students. When people asked me about my job, I’d tell them I am a teacher at a gender-positive all-girls school.
I once got the response: “Why all girls, boys aren’t so bad?” I have taught boys, and yes, teaching boys is great too! But there is something so special about teaching all girls. Not only is there a dire need for more all-girls education options in our pursuit of gender equality, but there is also magical energy when you have all girls in one space.
At Z’Edwards, an all-girls campus in Edwards, our students have the space to express their thoughts without the interruptions or distractions of boys. Z’Edwards student Rubi explained, “(At an all-girls school) our voices are heard and we don’t get overtaken by the boys.”
While I was working at The Girls Athletic Leadership School of Denver, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative conducted a case study that explored schools that were redefining student success. In that study, a participant stated a similar sentiment to Rubi’s: “I want girls to have an opportunity to be seen and heard in classrooms without boys over-talking.”
At Z’Edwards we have created an environment where girls can feel empowered to advocate for themselves and can ask questions that they normally wouldn’t be comfortable asking with boys around.
Being in an all-girls environment also puts the needs and desires of our female students at the forefront. A few of our students explained their frustration about how schools are often centered around boys. Z’Edwards student, Cynthia said, “Our school gives us the freedom to express ourselves. At my last school, the boys can wear whatever they want and girls can’t because of the boys.”
This covert sexualization of girls’ dress code does not happen nearly as much at a single-gender school. Moreover, we can have those types of honest conversations with our students, rather than accepting the rules for what they are.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative study also states that teachers and leaders at all-girls schools have the ability to create gender-specific curriculum, which in turn creates environments that foster identity development and positive personal growth: “Social-emotional skills around the art of relationship-building, and sense of belonging are enhanced (at all-girls schools) as students experience what they describe as ‘sisterhood.’”
Last week at Zealous we introduced our sisterhood project. We pair sixth graders with eighth graders so students are either leaders to younger students or have older role models. During this time, students talk to their “sisters” about the specific experiences of being a girl, especially a middle school girl, and participate in different bonding activities.
Zealous student Idaly explained, “Our friendships are stronger because boys can sometimes get in between friends.” This sisterhood time is a dedicated space for our students to connect with their sisters and be completely real with each other rather than being influenced by boys.
Beyond creating an environment where girls can be their authentic selves, we are also looking for ways we can inspire female-identifying people outside of the walls of Zealous. One of our generous donors, Patty Zahm, gifted our campus with over 20 copies of the book “Wolfpack,” by Abby Wambach. On Tuesdays during advisory, we set out time to read this book together and unpack its thought-provoking and inspiring messages. Last week, we discussed glass ceilings and creating our own rules:
“Women must stop following the Old Rules, which exist only to maintain the status quo. If we follow the rules we’ve always followed, the game will remain the same. Old ways of thinking will never help us build a new world. Out with the Old. In with the New.”
Zealous Schools started creating new rules and a completely new vision of education in 2018 with the Eagle school. Now at Z’Edwards, we will continue to create new rules, challenge the status quo and old ways of thinking, and work to create a different model of education that not only fosters a deep passion for learning but also equips girls with the leadership skills necessary to make positive impacts in our community.
Furthermore, this educational experience shouldn’t only be accessible to those who can afford tuition. We have scholarships and can always raise money for more. This school should represent the demographics of the female-identifying students in our valley. Feminism is only powerful if it includes and uplifts all women and girls. Change is coming from this small but fierce group of young women — watch out!
Sally Ryerson is a social studies academic coach at Zealous Schools’ Edwards campus. To learn more about Zealous Schools, go to ZealousSchools.org.