Some Find Fault With 'Daughters to Work' Event

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Take your daughters to school. Please.

That's the message some school districts sent to parents last week before the fifth annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day, sponsored by the Ms. Foundation of New York City. Participate in our new interactive TOWN MEETING, an electronic roundtable on improving schools

Though the April 24 event aimed to promote career awareness and self-esteem among adolescent girls, some educators argued that a day in the classroom was more important than a day at the office. Officials in some districts worried about the potential disruption of the academic calendar, while others said the event unfairly excluded boys.

In Texas, for example, the event fell four days before the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills for grades 3-8. Some teachers in Clear Creek, near Houston, said they needed the day to prepare their students for the statewide exam, according to the district's spokeswoman, Elaine Stoermer.

The 27,600-student district did not excuse the absences of students who followed parents to work.

"The teachers hesitate to introduce new material or review material if only half the class is there," Ms. Stoermer said.

Lauren Wechsler, a spokeswoman for the Ms. Foundation, said the event's benefits outweigh losing a day of test preparation or the hassle of making up a quiz.

"Teachers say that their students have shown an increased interest in school assignments after returning from Take Our Daughters to Work Day," Ms. Wechsler said. "They understand more about why they're at school and what they're aiming towards."

About 16.6 million adults said either they or their spouse participated in Take Our Daughter to Work Day in 1996, according to a poll paid for by the Ms. Foundation.

Some schools arranged for professional women to visit so students would not miss all their classes. Other educators suggested holding the event when school is out.

Financial Worries

School officials in Ventura, Calif., were worrying less about the date and more about the paperwork involved in excusing children from class. Georgeann Brown, the director of budget and finance for the 16,300-student district, said the district also decided not to promote the event this year because lower attendance affects state aid.

But state education officials said any financial impact would be minimal, since attendance figures from before April 15 are used to calculate the bulk of state aid.

"Any loss of money is certainly something they should consider, but the state superintendent thinks this event is a good learning opportunity," said Joe Symkowick, the education department's general counsel.

Yet another issue has dogged the event from the outset: boys. Many companies and government agencies have decided to host workplace events for both girls and boys to avoid any hint of discrimination.

Prince George's County, Md., a 122,000-student district in suburban Washington, declared April 24 "Take Your Child to Work Day." So did the District of Columbia fire department. Employees toured three boys and 13 girls around the headquarters building, a fire station, and a training academy.

Ms. Wechsler insisted, however, that girls deserve their own day, arguing that "they have special needs in adolescence."

Some researchers have concluded that many girls lose their self-confidence during their teenage years

Others have criticized such findings as methodologically flawed and driven by ideology. ("Idea of 'Gender Gap' in Schools Under Attack," Sept. 28, 1994.)

At the Engine Company 12 fire station here, firefighters--including two women--last week showed their young guests the inside of a fire truck and demonstrated how the hoses work.

"A lot of women don't realize the advantages and challenges of being a firefighter," said firefighter Karen Hunt, 32, who joined the department 10 months ago.

Learning About the Future

In the middle of the firehouse tour, the alarm sounded and the hazardous-materials team hustled out of the station on a wailing truck. Meanwhile, the girls took turns wearing the deputy chief's navy and gold hat.

"I came because I wanted to learn about jobs that I could be," said Rachel Guffey, an 11-year-old whose strawberry-blonde hair matches that of her father, a sergeant in the fire department.

Twelve-year-old Afton Hodge said missing a day of school was no big deal: ''It's more important to learn about the future.''

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