A few weeks ago, I joined a group for a run. Due to the shorter distance planned for that day, a few people brought their older elementary or middle school children with them. Prior to running, we always have a warm-up, and this day a father and his young son were in front of me. When the instruction was given to skip, the father turned to his reluctant son and encouraged “C’mon, skip like a six-year-old girl and enjoy yourself!” I was surprised by the comment, and it has stuck with me through the opening of school. To be fair, I wasn’t able to ask this parent as to whether he meant a negative comparison such as “running or throwing like a girl,” or if he was encouraging the child to be himself, to let go, and get caught up in the moment without worrying about what others think.
One of the most remarkable and compelling aspects of the Middle School at Ellis is that being "like a girl" is celebrated, and girls are encouraged and supported to be their own unique selves without being confined by any stereotypes about how they should act or be. Our program provides experiences through which girls build confidence, problem-solving acumen, creativity, and collaborative skills. Our Middle School girls work hard and play hard—as is so developmentally appropriate for girls at this stage of life.
House Games are an important component of the Middle School curriculum and are a time for students to gain confidence by taking risks and having fun in somewhat comical ways (including laughing at the faculty dance number), engage in friendly competition, and collaborate with students from each grade. Carefully designed by Jean Mercier, our Middle School Activities Coordinator and a World Language Teacher, the games might include “running like a girl” in athletic competitions such as “old school” playground relay races or an intense game of “rock, paper, scissors” after jumping through hula hoops. It could be “thinking like a girl” in a design challenge requiring creativity and problem-solving skills around crafting a replica of a Thanksgiving feast out of limited supplies or a mummy out of toilet paper and tape. No matter what surprise is in store, it provides a space for our girls to come together and be present in laughter and community.
What about opportunities to practice and showcase this growth of our creative and confident sides outside of the Ellis Middle School? This year our most popular House Game, creating red carpet dresses out of paper, will be enhanced with an October visit to the Frick Art Museum’s exhibit on Isabelle De Borchgrave: Fashioning Art From Paper.Students will learn paper folding techniques from artists, then “create like a girl” in design teams to integrate these new methods into their paper dress. Outside of House Games, I witnessed our Middle Soccer team courageously “competing like girls” as they faced a very talented all-boys team from Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Even though the other team was significantly taller, our girls were unafraid to challenge players for the ball, and they played with relentless energy until the very end of the game. At Ellis, competing, running, creating, designing, or thinking “like girls,” is inspirational and celebrated.