Saturday, February 7, 2004

Women helping girls: Role models to copy

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Gail Collins (right), editorial page editor of The New York Times and a Seton High School graduate, signs her book for Seton sophomore Amanda Allen, 16, after an address Friday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
PRICE HILL - Seventeen-year-old Liz Coz stared up at the woman speaking to Seton High School students on Friday and saw her dream.

Like Liz, the speaker, Gail Collins, once walked the Seton halls. Like Liz, Collins was the editor of the school newspaper. Collins went on to study journalism at Marquette University - where Liz hopes to go this fall - and become one of the world's most influential journalists as the first female editorial page editor at The New York Times.

"It's just so inspirational to see someone who took the same steps in life that I'm trying to take and really make it," Liz said before the 1963 Seton graduate spoke to the school about her new book, America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines. "It just proves to everybody that you can do it."

Collins' message to these west-side girls was similar to what many women role models say when they speak at Cincinnati's Catholic girls high schools: That today, more than ever, women have the opportunity to aim for leadership positions.

"When I went to Seton, girls who studied science, especially high-end science like physics, were told they couldn't go forward with that in college," Collins said. "But you can't let people tell you your career path is X,Y, Z. The key is to follow your heart, do what you're really interested in, and you'll get there."

Bringing in female role models fulfills a prime objective of private girls' education - to empower young women and help them learn to become leaders.

It's just one way these schools try to encourage girl power - by teaching women's history classes, by addressing real life topics such as eating disorders and sexual activity, by developing leadership skills in an all-girl environment for use in the real world.

Bringing in female role models "promotes women in a way that public schools can't because they're coed," said Sister Patricia Homan, an assistant principal at Ursuline Academy in Blue Ash.

"One of our core values is to recognize the dignity and gifts of women and to show these girls the sky's the limit. When we're in an all-girls environment, it's a lot easier for our girls to learn to become leaders."

Every girls' school in the area has a career day, when they bring in local alumnae who have gone on to careers ranging from neuroscientists to teachers, morticians and high-ranking police officers.

"The message is to show (students) that this successful person once sat in the same desk you're sitting in right now," said Maureen Baldock, principal at Mount Notre Dame High School in Reading.

When parents commit to paying for private schools, they want to know they're buying their kids a better experience than in public schools, school officials say.

"There's just so many more opportunities when it's all girls," said Kathy Dietrich, public relations director at McAuley High School in College Hill. "They don't have to compete with boys, so they become leaders. We have programs that cater to women and all our speakers are women. All this helps parents see that there's a return on their investment" in Catholic schools.


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