Experiences That Speak to the Power of Being a Girl

If you have ever asked a five-year-old girl what she wants to be when she grows up, you know that her answer can range from a doctor to a unicorn. And if on Monday, she tells you that she wants to be a zookeeper, by Friday she is certain that she will be a bus driver in outer space. During this stage of life, when a young girl holds such optimistic views of herself and her abilities, the possibilities for who she will be and what she can do are bound only by the limits of her imagination. She is blissfully unaware of the ways gender stereotypes have restricted opportunities for girls and women and the voices she hears the loudest are those of her parents who encourage her to believe in her own worth.
In her early years at school, the experiences a girl has and the relationships she develops can either support her belief in herself or erode it. An Ellis girl has the advantage of belonging to a school community that has a 100-year tradition of inspiring and empowering girls. Throughout all of these years, Ellis has held fast to the belief that bringing girls together to learn in community has a powerful influence on a girl’s life and her understanding of herself.

Sisterhood is at the heart of the Ellis experience. From day one, we set an expectation that we will learn from each other, support each other, and serve as an example to one another. In every classroom in the Lower School, we have a team meeting each day to greet each other, listen to each other’s stories, discuss challenges we are facing, and celebrate achievements and special occasions. The time and attention that is devoted to creating a team of engaged and connected individuals demonstrates the value we place on relationships. Each girl is encouraged to be her unique self, to be seen and celebrated for who she is as an individual and as one part of the whole.

We cultivate a culture of responsibility to each other by engaging students in learning tasks that require them to communicate their ideas, listen to each other, challenge each other’s thinking, and problem solve together. As they learn how to work cooperatively toward a common goal, they discover that they can do things together that they cannot do by themselves.

While in their everyday lives, girls are experiencing the advantages of belonging to a supportive learning community, they are also encountering the stories of accomplished women who have impacted the world. From the art classroom to the STEM lab, teachers have selected women like Georgia O’Keefe, Wangari Maathai, Emma Lazarus, Misty Copeland, Rachel Carson, and Malala Yousafzai to inspire the girls. Learning about the lives of these role models confirms a young girl’s belief that she too can do great things. On a smaller scale, a girl only has to look around her to see girls accomplishing all sorts of things every day. In this way, the other students expand a girl’s view of what she herself may be capable of doing.

Imagine the impact this kind of learning environment has on a child over the years. When everything she experiences speaks to the power of girls, what might she expect from herself and other girls? Belonging to a sisterhood from an early age, shapes a girl’s thinking of the role girls and women play in her life. She sees them as allies, advocates, helpers, mentors, and friends. She will carry this sense of belonging to a sisterhood with her throughout her life. And when she looks back at her years in Lower School, she will remember it not only as the place where she learned that there are many different ways to be a girl in the world, but where she discovered the kind of girl she wants to be.