It is our responsibility to help young girls reach goals, or to at least not stand in their way
This past weekend, I had the honor of helping mentor some of the best and brightest middle-school-age girls in North Texas. Girl Up is a leadership development initiative of the United Nations
Foundation that has as its mission encouraging girls to be bold and not shy away from careers in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields.
Girls are vastly under-represented in STEM fields, and the thinking is that it’s going to take all of us to solve the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Research has shown that girls want to change the world and make it a better place but are often stymied by stereotypes that girls aren’t good at math or science (They are though!) and other societal obstacles to advancement.
Of the girls surveyed in a study conducted by Microsoft, 72 percent said it was important for them to have jobs that directly helped the world. But only 37 percent saw STEM careers as an avenue to achieve that goal.
Girl Up aims to change those perceptions.
The talent in that room was amazing. I felt like the odd duck as there were three high-powered leaders from AT&T on the panel with me — and those women are sharp!
After spending the day with these girls, I was so impressed with their energy and innovative solutions to problems. And yes, they really do want to change the world. Our job as mentors was to act more as facilitators. It wasn’t up to us to push these kids in any direction; our job was to help them accomplish what they set out to do.
The last half of the day featured the girls breaking into small groups to define a problem and then to create a solution for that problem.
Then they would pitch this idea to the panel, and we would judge them on a variety of criteria before awarding $2,500 to first place, $1,500 to second place and $500 to third.
It felt a little like Shark Tank.
We had bright, creative middle- and high-school-age girls, many from high-earning zip codes. Want to take a guess at what the overwhelming issue these girls feel the need to solve?
Access to mental health care and safety in their classrooms.
I don’t remember what was on my list of top issues when I was in middle school, but mental health care and being safe in the classroom sure weren’t on it.
For solutions, one group of girls want to create an application that will connect kids going through a difficult time to other kids and potentially to therapists who might donate their time. Kind of like an on-line hotline.
Another group wanted to create a training program for teachers and school counselors to help them better control their classrooms, to help them recognize the signs that a kid is having mental health issues and to help make the kids in the classroom feel safer.
Isn’t all of this OUR JOB? Shouldn’t WE make sure these kids at such a vulnerable age absolutely KNOW where they can turn for help? Shouldn’t schools and administrators be the ones to make sure educators are trained and held accountable for this training?
Where did we go wrong?
This problem isn’t isolated to a few districts. Worldwide, the percentage of girls who don’t know where to turn for mental health assistance is nearly 50 percent. That’s a problem. The girls acknowledge the stigma surrounding mental health issues and they want to break those down.
And bullying in schools is still a major issue. Students shouldn’t be afraid to go to school. If you are a teacher or school administrator reading this, does your school or district have a comprehensive anti-bullying policy? Are teachers trained to intervene?
I know we ask a lot of teachers and they aren’t paid what they deserve, but we have to do better.
If it’s an education problem, there is help available to train teachers and administrators. If it’s an enforcement or discipline problem, then fix it.
Parents, know what is going on in your kids’ lives. Encourage them, support them and love them. Accept them for who they are. This is especially critical for kids who identify somewhere in the LGBTQ community. I heard from a teacher near Houston who reached out because of a 5th grade trans student had suicidal ideation and wasn’t being supported at home.
These kids feeling like they have no hope is unacceptable.
We have to fix it.
We can’t afford to lose one more of these precious, amazing kids. They are our best and brightest, and they are screaming for help.
Hearing no response, they are trying as best they can to fix it themselves. They deserve more.
How about we step in and help. Or at least get out of their way.
Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.