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All-Girls Math and Science Charter School Could Come to the South Bronx

By Eddie Small | December 10, 2014 2:21pm
 Dr. Marie Umeh is part of a group of people trying to bring an all-girls charter school to the South Bronx.
Dr. Marie Umeh is part of a group of people trying to bring an all-girls charter school to the South Bronx.
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Dr. Marie Umeh/Shutterstock

SOUTH BRONX — An all-girls middle school that would teach students about robotics, crime scene analysis and space travel could be coming to the South Bronx.

A group of educators hope to bring the Girls Charter School for Inquiry, Innovation and the Arts to the borough to help girls in grades six through eight gain a more thorough understanding of science, technology, engineering and math, four subjects commonly known as the STEM fields.

Dr. Marie Umeh, a professor who is working to help create the school, said that she wanted it to focus on STEM education for girls because it would help steer them toward jobs in fields where they are currently underrepresented, a fact that she hopes the school would help reverse.

"We know that young men are the ones in technology, science, etc., but girls have always lagged behind," she said. "So we want to promote math, science, engineering, all those sciences that girls have not been, shall I say, geared toward in the past."

As of June 2013, women earned 41 percent of Ph.D's in STEM fields, and women working in STEM jobs earned an average of 33 percent more than women working in other fields, according to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Although other schools in the city teach science and math, the Girls Charter School would differ from them based on the specific types of classes it planned to offer in these subjects, according to Monique McKenzie, who has worked as a teacher, dean and administrator and is one of the driving forces behind the potential school.

Proposed courses include green architecture, where students would use software to design affordable housing units, medical detectives, where students would analyze the results of genetic testing to diagnose diseases, and automation and robotics, where students would build traffic lights and toll booths.

"I think we will motivate them to go to the right high school once they get a taste of the classes that we offer," said McKenzie. "And also, we will give them lectures and have counselors that will help them to see what’s available for their future."

Students would benefit from it being an all-girls school as well, according to Umeh.

"I myself am the graduate of an all-girls high school," she said, "and I believe that all-girls schools help the young women to be more focused, dynamic and well-rounded."

The school does not have an exact address yet but would be located in the South Bronx within school districts seven or nine.

"There’s a lot of poverty in this area," said McKenzie, "so they do need people to help transform their lives and help them become better children."

School leaders hope to start off with 75 students divided into three sixth grade classes of 25 girls each. They plan to submit their letter of intent to the New York State Education Department Charter School Office in February and would like to have the school up and running by the 2016-2017 academic year.

Proponents for the school had tried to start the application process for it earlier this year, but the state told them they had not done enough community outreach yet, said McKenzie.

Backers of the Girls Charter School are thus still trying to spread awareness of and support for their idea, and parents and neighborhood leaders have so far expressed enthusiasm for the concept.

Samantha Figueora, whose 5-year-old daughter Arianna attends kindergarten in the South Bronx and likes science, said she might do well in an all-girls environment.

"Being around other girls who are interested in the same thing, she can benefit more from that as opposed to being distracted by the boys," she said.

Akbar Muhammad, whose five-year-old daughter Adira attends school in the South Bronx as well, agreed that an all-girls school could make it easier to learn, although she acknowledged there would still be challenges.

"I don't know how distraction-free it would be," she said, "but it eliminates one."