Seattle Girls' School

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NEW Website - National Coalition of Girls' Schools

Time to check out the newly unveiled NCGS website. It has a new "look and feel" and serves as an excellent resource in making the case for girls' schools. When the coalition was first founded, many schools for girls were closing or merging with boys schools to become coed institutions. Two decades later, there is compelling evidence for the power and efficacy of single-gender education - for both boys and girls.

On Monday night, the symposium participants were hosted at Southfield School in Brookline. The story of Southfield is an interesting one. It is a 20 year old girls school that was actually "birthed" by Dexter, an 85 year old boys school. As their Head of School toured me around their impressive facility, I could not help but think of Initiative IV in the SGS Strategic Plan :-)

The pendulum has clearly swung back toward considering single-gender schools as strong options in our search for differentiating instruction for the individual learner.

Check out the new NCGS website - Click Here

Girls Need Relevance When Choosing Careers in STEM

This morning, we kicked off the symposium with an engaging keynote from Ioannis Miaoulis, President and Director of the Boston Museum of Science and creator of the National Center for Technological Literacy. His presentation was both humorous and provocative, entitled - ”Science in the K-12 Schools: Oh My, do we have it WRONG!” He proceeded to talk about the need for relevance when presenting STEM subjects, especially for girls who generally seek connection to science and technology that promotes the "greater good." Hence, their greater representation in medicine, bio-medical engineering, and the like. It's not that these fields are easy, it's simply that women often need the how and the why addressed when choosing career paths.

I appreciated his call for a greater understanding of how a car works versus weeks of study on volcanic activity. Nothing wrong with a proper understanding of plate tectonics, but kids do spend much more time in automobiles than inside volcanoes!

He went on to say that in the US we have a very murky understanding of what exactly engineers do. In his native Greece and throughout Europe, engineering is a highly regarded and better understood profession. Again, young people need relevance and connection in order to pursue these careers. He sited a study that suggests that sons and daughters of engineers are much more likely to pursue a comparable career. I must confess that my own study of aerospace engineering in undergraduate school was indeed inspired by my parents' studies in chemical engineering at the University of Havana. I am sure that my mother was one of the few women in Cuba, perhaps in the world, studying engineering in 1960. I would say an SGS girl at her core!

I went on to present on a panel featuring some SGS signature "being there" experiences such as the Salish Seas expedition in grade 5, medical "board exams" in grade 6, "Future SGS" in grade 7, and "Mission" in grade 8. Based on the audience response, I would say that at SGS, we have "got it right." Relevance and full exposure to STEM + the arts = STEAM makes for a winning equation.

I leave you with a definition of engineering that might serve as a starting point next time you discuss future careers with your daughter :-)

The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property.

The American Engineers' Council for Professional Development

Monday, June 20, 2011

Do we still need girls' schools? YES! More than ever.

Tonight, I will join colleagues from girls’ schools from across the nation in celebrating 20 years of work by the National Coalition of Girls Schools. I will certainly raise a glass and toast the progress made over the past two decades, but I also want to ask the question – how much more work is left to be done? Has our campaign to empower young women – especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields – been successful? I was struck at a recent meeting of Heads of Schools when I heard two of the speakers refer to the needs of boys. To quote one of the presenters, “The girls are kicking a--!”

While it is true that the current college population is about 60% female, let’s dig a little deeper and examine some data. To his credit, the presenter did exactly that with a friendly prompt from yours truly ☺. He followed up his earlier statement by acknowledging that while more women than men are entering colleges and universities, that men “out-perform” them in many areas – especially in the sciences and in technology. There is much evidence that what is at play here is, once again, issues of confidence rather than competence. We must also remember that women are forced to create space for themselves in these male dominated fields. Where are the male allies? Your engagement in ending sexism is needed!

In 2008, I had the privilege of serving as a state delegate to the Democratic State Convention in support of Senator Hillary Clinton. As I worked through the Washington State political process from the local caucus to Spokane, I was struck by very clear evidence that sexism was alive and well in American politics. I will not go down the road of comparing “isms,” but I saw Senator Clinton hit that glass ceiling! For me, that campaign was a reminder of both how far we have come and how far we have left to go.

So lets examine the data to see how far we have come and how far we have left to go in accessing STEM fields for young women. In a report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) entitled Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, eight research findings are grouped into three areas:

•How social and environmental factors shape girls’ achievement and interest in math and science

•The climate of college and university science and engineering departments

•Continuing influence of bias

The report provides insight in terms of the reality as well as potential solutions. For now, we must work in all three of these areas in order to increase the percentages of women in STEM fields that range from a low of less than 10% in Mechanical Engineering and Electronics to a “high” of just over 30% in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. The lack of female role models at the university level is apparent as tenured female professors range from just over 7% in engineering to a “high” of 22% in computer sciences.

A detailed overview of the STEM Equity Pipeline is available at:

It would seem that schools like Seattle Girls’ School are needed today more than ever in order to both continue the work of empowerment; and to remind educational leaders – all leaders – that while the current American educational system may not be serving boys, it is also not serving girls! The power of single-sex education for both boys and girls lies in its ability to meet the needs of that individual learner; and we know more and more that gender differences do exist at the physiological level.

So, tonight, I will raise a toast with my colleagues; but I will save a bottle of the “good stuff” for the day when we elect our first female President!

Friday, June 17, 2011

In Boston for STEM Symposium

Attending the National Coalition of Girls' Schools STEM Symposium. I will be serving on a panel on Tuesday entitled, SPARK GIRLS’ INTEREST IN STEM BY BRINGING REAL WORLD APPLICATIONS INTO THE CLASSROOM, where I will be sharing several SGS signature experiences that bring the "real world" into our classrooms. Among the highlighted programs:

The 5th Grade Salish Seas Expedition -
6th Grade “Grand Rounds” portion of "I Am More Than the Sum of My Parts" -
The recent 7th Grade "Future SGS" Project
The 8th Grade Mission -

The coalition celebrates 20 years of work on behalf of girls and girls' schools across the world. I will blog Monday and Tuesday with some impressions. Attend the symposium virtually at: