Report Critical of How Girls Are Taught Draws Praise for Its Data on Minorities

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One aspect of the American Association of University Women's report on how schools educate girls that has elicited praise from the philanthropic community is its inclusion of research on girls who belong to ethnic and racial minority groups.

"It's been very helpful, because it was one of the few studies that really looked at girls of color and not just at one bloc,'' said Kristen Golden, the director of public education at the New York-based Ms. Foundation.

Recent interest in funding all-male schools and other programs for African-American boys has generated controversy among some members of the foundation world, according to Mary Leonard, the director of precollegiate programs at the Council on Foundations, because of a perception that girls from ethnic and racial minorities have received short shrift.

"I think they've been ignored in large part [because] young black women are not perceived as being out there killing each other or killing other people,'' said Anita Cooke, the president of the Washington chapter of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, a social and philanthropic organization for African-American women.

"I think there's a lot of the same issues that affect young black men: education issues, responsible sexuality, conflict resolution, and so on,'' Ms. Cooke said. "The death statistics may not be as high, but a lot of the problems are similar.''

In a 1990 article published by Women and Foundations/Corporate Philanthropy, an affiliate of the Council on Foundations, Michelle Fine, a professor of psychology in education at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that most existing programs for minority girls center on deterring them from teenage parenthood.

"Only when they get pregnant do they now get systematic and gender-specific attention,'' wrote Ms. Fine. "And even then such attention is typically aimed at 'saving the baby.' ''

Yet one of the most widely publicized findings of the A.A.U.W. report is that that fewer than half of the girls who drop out of school do so because they are pregnant.

A Growth in Interest

However, observers say that research by Carol Gilligan and her colleagues at Harvard University linking a girl's self-esteem to her academic progress has generated more interest among funders in programs that incorporate their theories of adolescent development.

The Cleveland Foundation, which helped fund the Harvard group's research at the Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, several years ago, recently made several new grants to programs that focus on building girls' self-esteem, especially girls from minority groups.

"We've done some scattered grant-making in that area before, but it was the first time I had noticed a strong concentration of girls' programs coming through the grant cycle,'' said Dibri Beavers, a spokeswoman for the foundation. "It signaled that our program officers were really committed to this area.''

One organization that has gained national prominence for its work with girls from racial and ethnic minority groups is Girls Inc. Founded as Girls' Clubs of America in 1945, this network of 200 youth centers serves 250,000 girls across the country, 51 percent of whom belong to racial or ethnic minorities.

Along with projects that discourage girls from using drugs and becoming pregnant, the clubs offer programs that promote girls' interest in mathematics and science and encourage their participation in sports.

Much of the group's programming is underwritten by foundations and corporations.

Creating 'Rites of Passage'

This fall, Ms. Cooke's group in Washington will launch a new mentoring project in which its members will be matched with a class of 4th-grade girls.

"We want to build some ties among us as women and some of the young women who are growing up so they feel we are supportive of them and a resource for them,'' Ms. Cooke said.

Also in Washington, the Union Institute Center for Women is seeking funding for a yearlong series of workshops for African-American and Hispanic young women that will include, among other topics, sessions on the arts, writing, health, self-defense, and relationships and sexuality. In particular, the center plans to create "rites of passage'' that will celebrate the girls' growth and development.

Fund-raising has taken longer than the project's leaders initially anticipated, said the center's director, Judith Arkana, because they found interest in funding such programs still limited.

In the interim, the group has decide to hold some smaller-scale events.

"We've got the ideas, we've got the woman-power, the need is high,'' Ms. Arkana said.

Vol. 12, Issue 05, Page 12

Published in Print: October 7, 1992, as Report Critical of How Girls Are Taught Draws Praise for Its Data on Minorities
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