Member Kudos: Empowering Young Females at Marquette Alternative High, Marquette Area Public Schools

2015 Education Excellence Award Recipient

DashBoard, Aug. 5, 2015

The 20 recipients of the 2015 MASB/SET SEG Foundation Education Excellence Awards are some of the greatest examples of unique and innovative public school programs in the state of Michigan. Over the next few months, MASB will share the details of each program from their applications, presented in alphabetical order by district. This week we highlight the Empowering Young Females program at Marquette Alternative High in Marquette Area Public Schools.

Description: Empowering Young Females is innovative and unique. There is not a similar program in the area. Five years ago, MAPS discovered a need their female students had within its alternative education program and developed ways to assist that need. This year, they gained grant funds to greatly expand the program.

Goals & Objectives

  • Increase self-esteem and positive self-image through team building, reflecting and activities outside of their comfort zone.
  • Work with older women who serve as positive role models to give students something to aspire to.
  • Participate in a high ropes course to build confidence and collaboration.
  • Reflection and journal writing to assess effectiveness of activities and also to be better aware and proud of feelings.
  • Team building through group reflection, high ropes and other activities.
  • Interact with each other and bond through a common experience.
  • Experience and participate in activities not normally participated in to help encourage girls to take positive risks.
  • Discuss plans for future goals and how they will achieve them.
  • Opportunity to ask questions in a safe environment about women’s role in society and what it’s really like, women’s health and issues they may be afraid to discuss in a regular group setting.

Funding/Resources: During past school years, the program did not have a budget so the resources had to be personally purchased by teachers or free! The program was able to invite guest speakers to volunteer their time and expertise, focusing on empowering their young females through their personal experiences. To increase funding for this program, the district applied for additional grant funding and raised approximately $8,500!

For the 2014-2015 school year, MAPS was able to begin the year in September with an all-girls' trip (students and staff) to Clear Lake Outdoor Education Camp. At Clear Lake they accomplished most of their goals and objectives by spending two nights and three days with the students. They invited Jennifer Straus ( to increase engagement through storytelling. The event allowed them to strongly make connections with their students early in the year, which has greatly assisted them during the rest of this year.

In addition to Clear Lake, they have been able to fund lesson plans and activities focusing on their objective areas. They are blessed to live in a community that has given a wealth of volunteers willing to work with them on this program.

Outreach: Within MAHS, a 100 percent at-risk student body of 125, grades 9-12, they have six female staff members and approximately 45 female students. The Four C’s are worked upon daily and with this program they have been able to exemplify them to a higher level.

The program originally began with a Women’s Literature class four years ago when they began holding annual fundraisers, inviting monthly guest speakers about women’s empowerment, and participating in an end-of-the-year tea party to embrace the maturity they gained through the school year and their self-acts. The females were also invited to annual formal dinners with the Marquette Zonta group at Christmas time. The program has now evolved into specified lesson plans and activities to increase Women’s Empowerment.

As the most important “C” for this program, the young females learn how to positively communicate in many ways: among each other, with adults, in a variety of settings, for their needs and dreams, and as young adults entering the career world. They are being taught how to communicate and practice their skills to be successful as they move into adulthood, and must be able to advocate for themselves and their future families. In addition, they are being shown how to connect with others who can assist them in developing healthy lifestyles.

Throughout this program, the young women have had the opportunity to ask uncomfortable questions and hear hard truths. Topics ranging from a woman’s role in society, women’s health and personal survival stories have all been covered. The program also emphasizes their communication with each other. MAPS found that one of the most dramatic shifts in its school atmosphere due to this program was the relationship among the females—they began to communicate in positive ways and lift each other up as opposed to bring one another down.

The girls have had the opportunity to meet community members involved in creative entrepreneurship. MAPS has forged relationships with the owner of a paint-your-own-pottery shop, the young chef and owner of a local German restaurant, the local roller derby league, the founders of Fellow Flowers and multiple local artists ranging in mediums from origami to acrylic paints. Along with this, they have been able to work with storyteller Jen Straus to begin telling their own personal stories and hosted a thank-you luncheon for sponsors. All of the opportunities given to the females during these programs have allowed the girls to experience activities they wouldn’t otherwise participate in to help encourage them to take positive risks. Meeting mentors from all walks of life and experiences encourages the girls to use their own personal stories to become creative, independent thinkers.

Critical Thinking & Collaboration
The overall goals and objectives for the Empowering Young Women program directly relate to critical thinking and collaboration. In most of the activities students have had to work on increasing self-esteem and positive self-image through team building, reflecting and contribute to activities outside of their comfort zone. At Clear Lake, they participated in a high ropes course and low ropes (problem-solving activities near the ground) to build confidence and collaboration. They closely shared, ate and prepared meals; slept; canoed; arranged a shower schedule; cleaned cabins and communal bathrooms; and lived with their classmates and teachers. Through journal writing and storytelling they reflected and interacted to assess the effectiveness of the activities and also to bond and be better aware and proud of feelings.

Within most of the programming, the girls have met and shared stories with women who have struggled and succeeded. Hearing the stories of strong females encourages the girls to look past their many hardships and envision a future where they are healthy, successful and happy. They work with each other and community members to forge relationships that will offer them future opportunities, support and strength. 

Results: The Empowering Young Women program has led to a decrease in the social-emotional negative aspects of school among our female students and an increase in focus on academics and positive self-image, which in turn has increased student academic achievement in the classroom. The time the principal and staff has had to spend dealing with issues involving cruelty and bullying between female students has reduced from about three incidences per week to two per month. Much of the time that was spent handling fighting between students can now be spent on more important issues such as substance abuse, future goals and plans, and healthy relationships and living.

The female students have requested more trips that will challenge their tolerance and introduce new activities (a spring camping trip was recently suggested). They have also said the program has given them the opportunity to talk to female students who they wouldn’t have otherwise connected with. This has made our school a more open and accepting place. New students feel our family atmosphere and feel welcomed from day one.

An unintended positive consequence of the creation of this program also lead to a new program among our male staff and students called “Dude Fest.” While the girls have been spending time participating in new experiences and hearing from strong women, the boys have created unique activities as well. Visiting the climbing wall at the local university campus gave them a chance to see quiet students come out of their shells, support students in a new and challenging environment, and bond as males. The boys have also had time to hike, build lean-tos out of fallen trees, participate in team-building games and create their own Olympics events.

When questioned about the impact of Dude Fest males students responded with answers such as, “it helped us gain an acceptance of others and bring students closer,” “it was brotherly bonding,” “we are glad we can take a break from the work to get together and bond” and “it’s given me a chance to look at school from a different perspective.”

Both the male and female staff has embraced the opportunity to work with our students in this capacity. MAPS has seen a stronger program in the areas of student relationships, preparation for future, stretching the limits of traditional gender roles, improved focus on academic success, engagement of students in classes and attendance. Both staff and students have also mentioned an ease in the tension often felt around a high school.

The program has begun to branch out unintended ways. Recently, one of our male staff promoted the One Billion Rising movement to bring awareness to violence against women. He gathered interested students, male and female, and together they created signs and made a literal stand outdoors with other community members passionate for raising awareness of violence against women. This event caused MAPS to begin thinking about unique ways to reverse roles and have male staff lead an all-girls' event and female staff lead Dude Fest. They continue to write grants to fund future activities for these programs now that they have seen its importance and impact.

Program Coordinators: Amanda Erspamer-Berry, Nora Torreano, Kim Matulewicz, Cynthia DePetro, Jane Kyle and Lori Frak,

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