Teachers at Charlestown High School in Boston faced a dilemma--Chinese
girls were not participating in advanced computer science
classes. Their response changed the nature of the classroom
and of the school as they moved from no involvement of girls
to four girls taking top honors and scholarships for advanced
study in computer science. All this in less than two years.
The Girls Project, an innovative effort within this Boston
high school, is one of 20 Boston and Cambridge schools participating
Gender Healthy/Respectful Schools project, funded
by the Caroline
and Sigmund Schott Foundation. The Gender and Diversities
Institute provides technical assistance and action-reflection
evaluation for the schools and the teacher teams. Each school
team is exploring ways in which gender healthy, respectful
classrooms can improve school environments, teaching, and
learning for both girls and boys. The schools within this
growing network represent all grades from elementary through
secondary school and each addresses a different aspect of
creating a gender-healthy environment, ranging from increasing
girls' involvement with technology to peer-led training to
prevent sexual harassment to integrating gender issues into
As one of these projects, the Charlestown Girls Project
demonstrates the impact of concerned teachers implementing
gender-equitable education. For the past two years, the focus
of the project has been the development of computer skills,
self-esteem, and self confidence of female Chinese students.
Girls work closely with teachers in afterschool sessions designed
to let them experience working with computers and with programming.
Mentoring, role models, and practical hands-on experience
all play an integral part in influencing the students' perceptions
about themselves as competent and engaged computer programmers.
During semester breaks, Chinese women who are pursuing undergraduate
degrees in computer science come to the school and share their
experiences with the high school girls. They encourage girls
to think about careers in the sciences and to see themselves
as having fun with programming.
Field trips where girls can learn more and also demonstrate
their own computer skills raised excitement and confidence.
For example, students attended a technology fair at a local
college. The fair underscored links between technology, math,
English, and engineering, with teachers from the different
fields demonstrating how these subjects are linked.
The results of this multi-faceted project are readily apparent.
In one of the culminating activities for the year, girls designed
computer games that adults could then try out as part of the
Gender Healthy Respectful Schools annual Exposition. In addition,
for the first time ever, the 2001 annual Charlestown High
Tech Fair, which showcase students' computer science projects,
awarded one of the top three prizes to a student from this
project. At the end of the school year, four of five full
scholarships given to Charlestown High students to attend
Boston University were awarded to girls from this project.
Two of these students chose to major in computer science.
Building on the success of this initial effort, teachers
have now added outreach to Latino students, both girls and
boys. The teacher team sees this as a milestone in creating
a more inclusive program to increase the involvement of all
underrepresented students in science and technology.
For more information on the Gender Healthy Respectful Schools
project and on the work of the individual schools, contact
Maria Paz B. Avery director by
email, or by contacting her at 617–618–2341.