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GDI News

Spring 2002 Issue # 2
Teachers and students make school work for everyone

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The high school auditorium hums with energy--students shout to one another, some practice dance steps, others are in the corner going through the energetic motions of a play, and others are setting up the staging. Soon the lights go down and the story of sexual harassment plays out in front of a rapt audience of younger students. But this story has a message--it doesn't have to be like this and here's what we all can do about it.

In another school, boys gather to talk about what it means to be male in an urban setting, comparing what they feel with the messages they get from the media, talking about how it doesn't really let them be who they are. At the same school, girls meet to talk about what the media messages about females mean to them. Together they'll be able to address gender stereotypes and learn to relate to one another positively.

These are only two examples of the ways in which teachers and students in Boston and Cambridge are working together to change the ways boys and girls see themselves and others and to build positive experiences and relationships. They are part of the Institute's Gender Healthy Schools Initiative, supported by the Caroline and Sigmund Schott Foundation. For the last two years, Institute staff provided training, technical assistance and consultation, and resources to over 16 different schools, each of which received a grant from the foundation to support their school-based work. In addition, the Institute trained school teams in action reflection research and developed a series of documents to share the work of the schools with others.

Examples of some of the school-based projects that are making schools gender healthy and successful for both boys and girls are listed below.

Dismantling the Pipeline at the Morse Middle School in Cambridge addresses the racial/gender disparities in achievement for middle school (grades 6-8) girls in science and mathematics, and boys in language arts and social studies. Seeking to create a school environment with high expectations for all students, the students participate in weekly hands-on cooperative projects in each of these subjects. Teachers, parents and administrators participate in training designed to provide strategies to support high achievement for all student and to understand the role gender equity plays in high achievement.

Rites of Passage at the Harbor School in Boston is a collaborative effort that draws on the resources and traditions of SEED and Outward Bound, as well as the expertise of the Harbor School staff. A pilot school of the Boston public schools, the project includes two single-sex groups of ten to fifteen students and adult sponsors who meet after school throughout the year. The topics addressed in the program include boundaries in relationships, showing courage, responding to anger and loss, responsibilities to family and community, and cultural and self knowledge.

Gender Equity Across Cultures at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School currently in its third year, promotes awareness of gender stereotypes with a multicultural group of adolescent students. Through class lectures, group work, discussions, journal writing, presentations, and forums, the project addresses gender stereotypes across cultures, the gender roles males and females expect to play in society and at work, and the expectations female and male adolescent immigrants face within their families and in their school. This year, the project includes a series of workshops for parents on such topics as raising children in a foreign culture and the different gender role expectations in American culture.

Promoting Just and Respectful Communities at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School continues the work of The STARS program (Students Teaching and Advocating Respect) which has two components. The first component has all ninth graders participate in workshops on sexual harassment led by their peers. The second component is the Allies Program which identifies trusted faculty members to whom students can turn to with questions and concerns about sexual harassment. In addition, the project will be expands to elementary schools in Cambridge through workshops on harassment and bullying that are led by high school students.

Open Hearts, Open Minds at the Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Boston focuses on recent immigrant students and continues its work in promoting two goals: deepening teachers' understanding of how issues of equity affect student's learning and their ability to create a gender equitable environment that supports high expectations and success for all students; and creating opportunities for a new generation of students to engage in activities that help them explore issues of equity. The project incorporates Urban Improv, improvisational drama workshops that lead young people in explorations of issues they face on a daily basis, the Dream Writers Newsletter and Website that encourages ESL and bilingual students to find their voice by promoting writing across the curriculum, and the Classroom Libraries of Equity that provides resources focusing on issues of racism, sexual harassment, urban living, and immigration.

Wellness Program at The Boston Arts Academy in Boston helps students address the social, emotional, and physical needs they have as they aspire to excel both as artists and scholars. Some initiatives include the addition of a social/emotional curriculum, single-sex identity groups that allow the young artists to discuss gender issues, a Body Image emotional wellness group, and a Girl's Retreat that provides girls a safe environment in which to discuss gender, race, and class issues.

"Teaching Teens about Sexual Violence" at Fenway High School in Boston trains 20 students ranging from 16 to 18 years of age, to assume leadership roles in school sexual harassment prevention efforts. The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) provides training to boys and girls who then develop and facilitate workshops where issues of sexual violence and victimization, such as date rape, are explored in a safe setting.

Gender in the Media: Fact or Fiction? The Fenway High School in Boston helps teachers and students explore how the media influences students' images and expectations of themselves as girls and boys, and their images and expectations of the other sex. A series of retreats designed for separate groups of girls and boys focus on helping them make good connections with others. Moreover, students are able to engage in self-knowledge and self-reflective activities, gain an appreciation of who and what they are as individuals, explore ways to be secure and healthy as teens, as well as understand what power means and the responsibility that goes with it.

Race, Class and Gender in Humanities at The Boston Arts Academy in Boston uses the humanities curriculum to support students' exploration of race, class, and gender in American culture in general and in the arts in particular. The project supports a cross-disciplinary team of humanities and art teachers in their efforts to develop curriculum, continuously assess the effectiveness of that curriculum, and document the growth of the students and teachers. A highlight of the project is a musical and theatrical presentation by students to the whole school focusing on self-identity and appreciation of one's culture.

Sexual Harassment and Peer Prevention Project at Brighton High School in Boston focuses on addressing sexual harassment issues within the school. Separate groups of student peer leaders, teachers, and administrators are trained as sexual harassment allies who provide support to prevent harrasment. Student peer leaders give workshops to Brighton High students and to younger adolescents at a local junior high school. These workshops provide participants with an understanding of what sexual harassment is and the difference between sexual harassment and flirting. They also focus on the impact sexual harassment can have on students, what to do when a student is sexually harassed, and how to work together to prevent sexual harassment.

These are only a few examples of the range of projects that are part of the Gender Healthy Schools Network. To learn more about the projects, visit our website, view the online versions of the project newsletters, or contact project director Maria Paz Avery.


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