National Post

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February 12, 2002

Parents lobby for public school with feminist slant

'Go grrrl curriculum': Emphasis would be on studies, not boys, at all-girls' school

Heather Sokoloff
National Post


Todd Korol, National Post
Lynne Bosetti, a University of Calgary professor, says her daughter wants to attend the proposed school.

A group of Calgary parents is trying to start an all-girls public school based on a feminist curriculum.

The school would be one of the few girls' public schools in Canada, and parents say they are starting it because they are concerned their daughters are paying more attention to boys than school work.

"We've heard from girls in that age category who have said, 'I don't want to be in a setting where I have to worry about what my hair looks like'," said Liz LoVecchio, a former Calgary school board trustee acting as a spokeswoman for the parents.

Giving girls their own school is the best way to avoid the loss of self-esteem that often occurs when girls reach puberty, said Ms. LoVecchio, herself a graduate of an all-girls private school. Separating girls also removes them from peer pressure to appear girly and docile in front of boys, she added.

The parents are basing their concerns on research from the 1980s and 1990s that showed girls perform better academically in single-gender institutions.

"Girls become very aware of their bodies at that age, and their looks start to worry them. Their confidence goes way down. We are doing this to say to them that doesn't have to happen."

Though common in the private sector, single-sex public schools are a rarity. The Nellie McClung Girls Junior High Program in Edmonton may the the only one in Canada. Founded in 1995 with 70 students, enrolment mushroomed to more than 500 girls this year.

Another girls' public high school in Saint John, N.B. -- believed to be the last in Canada -- closed when it amalgamated with a boys' school about six years ago.

More than 100 Calgary parents have signed the proposal to create a new facility for girls in Grade 4 through Grade 7. Subsequent grades would be added later if the plan is accepted.

According to Alberta law, the plan must first be rejected by the Catholic and public school boards before the minister of Education will consider licensing it as a charter school.

The school founders are also taking the unusual step of proposing that parents and students should have the right to evaluate their teachers.

Though that is likely to outrage teachers' unions, as well as mean the public Calgary Board of Education will have to reject the plan, Ms. LoVecchio said a handful of educators have expressed interest in working at the school.

"They see the time has come for this sort of thing. Certainly parents have been wanting it for a long time, wanting to have a say is who is having influence over their children."

Because there is no religious component, the plan is expected to be rejected by the Catholic school district.

The parents say creating a charter school is the most realistic option, said Ms. LoVecchio.

Though the proposed school intends to replicate the success of girls' private schools, parents say they reject the stodgy image of plaid skirts and cardigans.

Uniforms at the new school, for example, might simply be a fleece vest with the school's yet-to-be determined logo.

"Really, what we want to do is tell the girls they can do whatever they set their minds to do. If they want to be truck driver, then we would want them to get out and be the best darn truck driver they can be. If they want to be an astronaut, go for it," said Ms. LoVecchio.

Classes at the new school will use a program developed by two Arizona researchers called the "Go Grrrl" curriculum. Central to this is a "Grrrls Bill of Rights," which tailors classes to girls by bringing successful female professionals into the classroom to talk about their jobs, teaching history from a woman's perspective, examining the role the media plays in constructing a girl's image of herself and teaching girls the importance of female friendships, said Lynn Bosetti, an education professor at University of Calgary who wants to send her nine-year-old daughter to the school.

"She is just so excited about it. It's all she talks about with her friends. They are excited to have a place where they are going to feel special," Dr. Bosetti said.

In studying early Prairie history, for example, rather than learning that men had all the power because they were elected to government, classes will focus on how mothers, wives and daughters influenced events, said Dr. Bosetti.

"We have an alternative story in women's groups which were often organized around quilting. The groups had an educative function, the women learned about farm safety, they learned about politics, and that's how they influenced their husbands at home."

The only resistance to the plan the parents have encountered so far has come from observers who say boys deserve a school of their own as well. Recent tests show teenaged boys trailing girls in reading, while girls have significantly narrowed the traditional gender gap in math and science.

"This isn't meant to exclude boys. If someone wants to start a boys school, they should do it," said Dr. Bosetti.

hsokoloff@nationalpost.com

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