Seattle Girls' School

News and happenings in education from the Head of School, Rafael del Castillo

Thursday, March 3, 2011

9th Annual SGS Benefit Luncheon - Visionary Speech

I am honored to be serving with such remarkable student leaders at Seattle Girls’ School. Thank you for being here today, and thank you for your support of our school in the past, presently, and hopefully in the future.

At our Community Meetings throughout the year, these 7th grade ambassadors at your tables are asked to present a “Did you know?” on a topic of personal, pertinent interest. Well, today it’s my turn to do a “Did you know?” My topic: the unique educational experience that is Seattle Girls’ School.

Did you know that SGS has awarded over $4,000,000 in need-based financial aid? Let me repeat that, $4,000,000 in ten years. As a result, over 200 young women are in high schools and universities all over the country and beyond. They tell us that self-advocacy and critical thinking are among the most valuable tools they took away from SGS. Of course, they are also taking advanced math and science at rates well above the national average; but self-advocacy and critical thinking? How well prepared were you to stand up for yourself and think critically after middle school?

Did you know that SGS is not just about math, science and technology? We have a visual arts program that culminates with each and every student presenting her work in a public space. Our Adventure and Wellness program promotes healthy risk taking. SGS girls climb, bike, skate, ski, snowboard, compete, collaborate, and learn to be strong in both mind and body. Eighth grade writers win state recognition for their Letters About Literature. Many students culminate their three years of Spanish with an immersion trip to a Spanish-speaking country. This year they’ve just returned from Costa Rica. Our girl’s rock band, fully equipped with a generous donation from Pearl Jam, brings down the house at our annual talent showcase. Asking girls to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone promotes resilience, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

Did you know that every SGS 5th grader not only learns her math facts, but also learns to steward our planet on our campus, in partnership with the aquarium, or on a 3-day sea voyage where she practices her data collecting skills in a real world experience?

Every 6th grader develops an understanding of the human body, not from a textbook, but from taking on the role of doctor, building a full-size human body from clay from the inside out, and presenting her knowledge to physicians from our community.

Every 7th grader not only begins a two-year algebra course, but also learns about her leadership style as well as her capacity to change the world around her.

Finally, did you know that our 8th graders co-create curriculum with their teachers and participate in a fully simulated, 3-hour mission, to Mars, the moon, or wherever else their imagination dictates because each year that mission is shaped by their interests and passions!

Some of you do know these things, and that’s why your daughter came to our school. All of you can imagine the kind of ignition that happens when students experience academic content in these ways. Whatever interest we spark here, it is our vision that these young women will go on to make the kind of impact that Judge Mary Yu and Dr. Yoki Matsuoka have made in their respective fields. As you hear from our alums today, you can see that they are well on their way! I believe this is the reason SGS has an influence and impact beyond our school walls. We are not “waiting for Superman” - to quote the recent thought-provoking documentary. Rather, we are developing these wonder women as the next generation of effective leaders.

Their full empowerment requires a more complex curriculum, one that highlights 21st century skills alongside reading, writing, and mathematics. We are, after all, preparing students for their future, not our past. As a middle school, of course, we are preparing students for high school. But we are also preparing them for present and future success - in life - in areas like:

· Critical thinking and problem solving
· Initiative and entrepreneurship
· The ability to access and analyze information
· Curiosity and imagination
· Collaboration and effective, creative leadership

A 21st century leader. How will she be different from, better than, a 20th century leader? Our outgoing Board Chair tell us that “Leaders take people through change to a new place and that you cannot take any group to a new place unless you understand the potential of a diverse community. Leadership without that appreciation can result in entitlement and oppression. Leaders must ask, “Who is missing at this table? Who might have the key to this complex problem?”

Let’s go back to “Did you know” for a moment. Did you know who Grace Hopper was, the namesake for our achievement and leadership awards?

Did you know she was an accomplished mathematician at Vassar who resigned her post to join the Navy WAVES in WWII? Did you know she became the first woman to rise to the rank of Rear Admiral? Did you know she was one of the first strategic "futurists" in the world of computing and is often referred to as the “mother of the computer?”

I’m guessing many of you did not know who Grace Hopper was when you arrived today; but now you do know that she was a woman who made a place for herself in spaces that most likely did not fully welcome her; and certainly did not do justice to her accomplishments.

In the future, these young women, all young people, will find those places that will make a space for their "whole selves.” They will open up the different compartments of their lives and engage the world on their own terms. We all have multiple identities. As a gay, Cuban-American, Roman-Catholic male Head of an independent middle school for girls, I can tell you a thing or two about multiple identities! And you know what? My experience resonates with our students’ experience. SGS is a place where I am free to share all of myself with our community. Families of all configurations, all faiths, and all value systems should feel welcome and safe at our school, welcome to add to the richness of our learning experience, which often occurs most, effectively when we disagree!

Today at SGS we find ourselves at a crossroads. In our first decade, we realized the vision, a vision based on the dreams of our founders as well as the courage of those first families who took a risk in order to see that their daughters embraced possibilities rather than status quo. Our second decade will see us build strong and durable foundations so that SGS becomes synonymous with excellence in all that we value: thoughtful stewardship, shared leadership, effective collaboration, critical and creative thinking, innovative academics – and not just in girls’ education, but in education period.

Each of these 7th grade ambassadors will soon be tasked to design and implement her own “Pay it Forward” Project that will address an issue she is particularly passionate about. The question foremost in her mind will be, “How will I change the world … by summer?” Following our students’ example, take a moment to ask yourself, “What have I done to change the world lately?” I invite each of you to become part of the SGS “Pay if Forward” movement, here, now, today.

Empowering just one girl changes the world. Just imagine what will happen when we have empowered 500 girls by the year 2020? When one of these graduates is the mayor of our great city, or governor of the state, or president? When women hold ½ the seats in the US Senate and serve as ½ the CEOs in America? When engineers and scientists like Dr. Matsuoka fill ½ the seats at the problem-solving tables? When ½ our judges are women, people, like Mary Yu.

At my core, I am and will always be a math teacher. So I like to view this as a lesson in mathematics. I would urge you to think in terms of multiplication as you are inspired by our final speakers as well as our video presentation - a video about girls who “find themselves” at age 12 and then go on to change the world, featuring lockers with no locks, a father’s dream for his daughter, last year’s Grace Hopper winner, Nan Stoops, and some of our outstanding teachers. Intrigued? I hope so! Because I smell an Oscar in the indie school promo video category next year ;-)

Thank you all for your presence today, for your tangible support of our school, and for your belief in the power of girls!!

1 comment:

  1. Remember, you can still help us reach our goal for annual fund raising at -