Empowering Our Tween Daughters: How one teacher is helping this gender further succeed

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: May 4, 2010

Girls face many changes and challenges between ages 10-12, experiencing heartbreaks, their first period, treatment from mean girls, humiliation from the other sex, and numerous other hardships that will take away from present happiness and positive growth.

While this time in a tween girl’s life is temporary, the long-term positive effects of helping to alleviate sadness, embarrassment and self-consciousness are numerous enough for one teacher in the U.S. to decide she wanted to make a change at her school.

Karen Boyk has been teaching in the Michigan state area for 36 years. About 13 years ago, Boyk received permission from her school board to create a middle school-aged class made up of just female eighth grade students. Boyk’s decision to pursue this type of teaching program was a result of her research concerning creating gender-equitable learning atmospheres.

“They’re all feeling unsure of themselves, they’re changing. The girls are a lot more calm, but sensitive – especially to ridicule.” says Boyk of tween students. “I was feeling as though I myself was ignoring the girls in my class because the behaviours of boys at the age are pretty demonstrative. Their math skills were tested lower than the boys, and less girls were attending college at this point, so I really wanted to find an answer in order to help these girls.”

Boyk’s all-girls class program is based on the research of Michael Gurian, a US-based educator, therapist, author and co-founder of The Gurian Institute, which conducts research and trains teachers via its commitment to helping boys and girls reach their full potential by providing professional development that increases student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and parent involvement. Following an email to Gurian expressing her admiration and dedication to his work, she received a call from Gurian and, as a result, has worked part-time for the Institute for the past five years as a trainer.

In her experience, Boyk confirms that what happens in the classroom is also what many parents may see at home – their tween girls withdrawing from speaking their minds or taking a leadership in activities due to the presence of boys. One anecdote has particularly stayed with Boyk since beginning her all-girls class – a story about a reticent and quiet girl who uncharacteristically chose to give an oral presentation as a book report to her all-girls class rather than submitting a written report.

“[The student] got up the day of her presentation and spoke for almost 10 minutes with no note cards and it was wonderful. Her classmates gave her a standing ovation,” relates Boyk.

Following this experience, this once shy student joined public speaking teams at her middle school and was in every play when she joined high school – still maintaining that it was in Boyk’s class that drove her to try something new.

“All I really feel that I’m doing is giving these girls a place to try new things so they can figure out who they are and what their strengths are,” Boyk says. “Then, they just soar.”

Boyk believes that parents can mimic the safe-zone created in her classroom in order to enable tween daughters to get through this time with minimal scratches.

“The girls I have taught have consistently said that they need a parent or authority figure to just talk to and vent. Oftentimes, they don’t want a parent to solve their problems,” explains Boyk. “They just want their parent to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings and use them as a sounding board in a trustworthy way in order to validate these feelings.”

Her all-girl classes will stay with Boyk until the end of this year when she will retire. But Boyk is confident that her class’ alumni will be experiencing the effects of their middle school experiences for years to come.

Get more information on the Gurian Institute at www.gurianinstitute.com.

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