Girls Rule in Math & Science (Okay, They Don't Yet But Maybe Someday!)

Too few women still enter the math and science fields but innovative programs in our public schools are trying to encourage more girls to see science can be cool.

As we were thinking about stories to cover for Education Nation, one topic kept coming up – how to get girls interested in science and math. After all, girls took top honors last year at the first ever Google Science Fair so maybe things are changing. Maybe the ‘boys are good at science and math, girls are good at English’ stereotype is crumbling.

Well, not so fast. Think about the numbers. While more girls graduate college than boys and while more women are in the labor force, women are still in the minority when it comes to the science and technology fields with less than 25% of these jobs being held by women according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

As a mom of two girls, I want to see a day when that number is 50% -- just as many women pursuing the sciences and math as men. So how do we get there?

An amazing school in Queens, New York may be on to something. We had the pleasure of visiting the Young Women’s Leadership School, one of only four Young Women’s schools in New York City. The title says it all. These are traditional public schools for girls alone. There are no boys and that may be one of the school’s magic ingredients.

Watch more here about a unique program getting girls interested in math and science.

 

"I honestly think that when boys are around it affects how girls act,” said Ayat Husseini, a 9th grader. “I think that changes girls sometimes so when we are in such a nice environment with just girls, it gives us more confidence."  Amira, another 9th grader, agreed. “All schools have drama but we have less drama because we don’t have the distraction of boys.”  Tenzin Wangmo, a high school junior, said, “When I came to this school, I was so comfortable because everyone was similar to me, I could relate to people and there wasn’t that sense…that I was going to make a fool of myself or that I was wrong about something.  I was free to make mistakes and free to learn from them.”

Yariv Cohen, a 6th grade math teacher, saw firsthand how the girls held back during his previous teaching experience at a co-ed school in the Bronx. “They wouldn’t even feel comfortable sharing inside the classroom,” said Cohen. “At that point, they would say, ‘I just don’t feel comfortable sharing with,’ and then they would name the boy or they would name a group of boys that they don’t feel comfortable with. It was never with a girl.”

The motto at the school is “Girls Rule.” Laura Mitchell, the school’s principal, said with a chuckle, “We like boys but girls rule.” So what’s the message behind “Girls Rule,” I asked? “Empowerment, self-esteem, confidence, and whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve it,” Mitchell said.

For Christina Valencerina, whose daughter is a 10th grader, the school offers her daughter something she didn’t have. “I don’t think I had the same experience growing up,” she said. “Science was always scary and boring but because I had that experience myself, I wanted her to see, no, science is fun, science is all around us, science is basically why we exist.”

Girls take classes such as Forensic Science and Stock Market Games, and join clubs called Mathletes, competing against kids in schools around the city and earning top honors. They also attend special science camps during the summer, camps that nearly every girl we met said turned her on to science.  “I came back, like, with a love for science and a curiosity that just kept building and building,” said Anny Sainvil, a junior, describing her experience at science camp.

That love may lead Anny to a career in environmental science, Ayat to become an OB-GYN and Arwa to pursue the field of marine biology.  “More women are going to science fields and technology fields and breaking the stereotypes so when we hopefully graduate, we’ll be one of them,” said Arwa Farrag, an 8th grader.

I hope my girls join these amazing women in knocking down stereotypes and building themselves up for a high-tech future.

Kelly Wallace is iVillage's Chief Correspondent.  Follow Kelly on Twitter (@kellywallacetv).

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