It is no secret that our students:
- Live in pockets of concentrated poverty
- Are chronically exposed to the kind of urban violence that results in murder
- Have single-parent, multiple siblings, and live at or below the poverty line
It might be more of a surprise to learn that the national phenomena of Black Girl Fighting are a Cincinnati phenomenon, too. Our Dohn students are too familiar with this poor way of interacting.
Our school is known for its ability to come up with compelling solutions to entrenched urban youth challenges. We met the challenge this time, when Ramone Davenport, our Director, realized that our freshman and sophomore boys and girls needed the chance to focus on studies. In August 2018 school year, Dohn created the Young Women’s Academy and the Young Men’s Academy for freshman and sophomore girls and boys.
The freshman and sophomore girls are in the Girls’ Empowered Program of the Young Women’s’ Academy, located in the Annex Building of our Main Campus at 608 E. McMillan Street. This program is the brilliant response of one of Dohn’s exemplary teachers, Eunice Valentin. Our Girls Empowered, Young Womens’ Academy grew out of her successful “Spirited Girls” pilot program last year, as well as out of her ethic of living a truthful, authentic and accountable life.
The success of Mr. Davenport and Ms. Valentin’s visionary leadership blossoms right before our eyes:
- Girls are now in relational bonding with their teachers and with one another. They are no longer isolating or fighting.
Science tells us that in maladaptive youth behavior, a relational context is missing. In the YWA, we have teachers connecting with their students in authentic, relational ways. The teachers are women, and they can talk with, and listen to, the girls on matters that relate to being a woman. The girls do not always have that kind of relationship with their mothers, sisters, or aunts. When these classes were coed, these kinds of conversations were taboo. Now, our students are creating therapeutic, relational bonds with their teachers. An increase in self-esteem, the ability to tell the truth with self and other, and the ability to experience trust and safety within a relationship are the results.
- There is an increase in the maturity level of the students
Through this program, girls now ask for conflict resolution sessions when peer conflicts arise. Experiential learning on how to communicate safely, and effectively, change neural pathways, and limiting paths are replaced with the experience of direct connection to self and other.
The girls recognize that it is empowering to talk rather than fight. This shift is a distinct life benefit that is applicable at home, with their teenage loves, and with one another outside of school. “Our girls are learning that conflict resolution does not mean violence. It is a joy to see this willingness to work through their problems,” Ms. Valentin adds.
- 3. Girls who were shy and quiet are now participating in Dohn’s innovative, student-preformed YouTube daily announcements.
It is well documented in the literature that young girls stop speaking up around 12 years old, and often do not find their voice again until well into adulthood. Girls who became introverted, due to adaptive responses to challenging life circumstances, are now speaking on camera and sharing the light of their unique personalities.
Our school is known for its ability to come up with compelling solutions to entrenched urban youth challenges.
How the Program Works
There are four troops in the Young Women’s Academy, and each troop has a focus:
Grace Harmony Serenity Truth
The school day starts with Advisory Circles that focus discussions around the core quality of their troop. Throughout each component of our program’s activities, the girls explore how to integrate these qualities as a way of life.
The development of self-discipline is one benefit that Ms. Valentin sees. She shares that one student is now able to stay in school the entire day, rather than try to get out of class at 10:00 AM. Based on the trauma effects of racial inequality, poverty, and violence, our students often only know the responses of fight or flight.
Now, they learn how to transcend the patterning of fight or flight and feel feelings and make informed choices based on the need that underlies the feeling. They are becoming responsive, in contrast to only being reactive.
Our brilliant teachers are teaching these precious students the hard-core life skills of discerning wants from needs and taking ownership of their life. As Ms. Valentin says, “With this skill set, one can go anywhere in life. You have the ability to own what you feel, see what you need, and learn to how follow-through, in your own best interests, to meet legitimate and authentic needs.”
Ms. Valentin goes on to say that as the Young Women’s Academy started, the feedback she heard from naysayers was “This is impossible. Our girls are petty. They will never be able to stop fighting amongst themselves. They will never be able to stay in school.”
Ms. Valentin adds, “We take care of the whole spectrum of psychosocial, emotional, behavioral, spiritual, and academic aspects of our students’ lives.” The positive effects of what she and her team are doing include girls taking care of themselves and one another. An example of this is the personal development witnessed when one girl says to another, “What you did with that boy is dangerous. Don’t do it!”
Looking Beyond the Self to the Greater Good
Another part of the Girls’ Empowered, Young Womens’ Academy is service projects. Once the student starts to feel stabilized within herself, she can look out at the world around her and see that other people have needs, too.
Ms. Goodloe’s classroom developed the program’s first service project on the issue of homelessness. Her students researched the issue and discerned choices about what help looks like for homeless people. For example, students realized that when supplying food, they have to consider if the person has a can opener and if there a way to cook food.
These students delivered research to their classmates through a PowerPoint presentation. Their recommendations to help the homeless will be carried out in January 2019, through visits and distributions of useful goods to people in our local homeless community.
The qualities of caring and compassion, Ms. Gooloe reports. “Are qualities that our students did not know they had before doing in-depth research on the issue.” She adds that her students learned:
Children are homeless
Homelessness can happen to anyone; there is no particular stereotype of a homeless person
Students Report on Benefits of the Program
Student feedback on the program is that the teachers help them with decision-making processes, while not making actual decisions for them. Girls in this program also report that they are enjoying the increased focus on their studies, their better grades, and the decrease in distraction. They are learning the life-long skill of filtering what is essential and minimizing the rest.
As Dean of the Young Women’s’ Academy, Ms. Valentin sees that it is not only the students who are learning, changing, growing and blooming success, it is also the teachers.
She says, “Conflict happens in work and family settings. Our teachers have to model for our students what it is like to work through a conflict equitably, and peacefully. I have seen our teachers reflect outstanding growth in getting along with one another, just as our students are doing.”
The training involved in becoming part of the faculty for our Young Women’s Academy is threefold. They learn:
How to build and maintain teams
How to deliver Trauma-Informed Care
How to integrate education and change theory through Positive Behavioral Interventions
One rarely sees success blossoming in the hardscrabble life of urban youth. Success is blossoming at Dohn, though, through our leadership, our teachers, and most especially through our bright young women who are brave enough to accept the challenge of trading negative behaviors for life-affirming choices. These young women are successfully engaging in the work of adolescence – they are developing clear self-identity and exploring how to belong within the larger world around them.
The Girls Empowered Program, Young Women’s Academy brings positive change for the students, as well as all of us who bear witness to the remarkable transformation and total blossoming of the potential young girls into empowered and engaged world citizens, right before our eyes.