Citizen Girl

map2Today I spent the day at Our Sisters School in New Bedford. I’ve been volunteering there as a grant writer and researcher for several months now, but rarely have the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time there during the school day. But today I made time. I knew it was special, but I didn’t realize how truly wonderful it was  or how good I would feel about being a part of it until today.

OSS is a tuition free, non secular, independent school whose mission is to educate and inspire economically challenged middle school girls from the Greater New Bedford area. The goal is to help them reach their full potential in a safe, supportive and academically rigorous environment. If left to navigate through the New Bedford public school system, many of the girls might fall victim to the current statistics- New Bedford has a dismal 60% graduation rate and 17% college matriculation rate, while OSS boasts a 100% graduation rate and 99% of their graduates are accepted at a higher education institution. Not only that, but without OSS the girls would probably not have tools and resources needed to help them manage tough living environments and compromising social situations.

What impressed me most was not that the girls LOVE their 11 hour school day, that the quality of the education they’re receiving is on par with the best our state has to offer, that the curriculum is innovative and challenging, that there is a focus on enrichment or that this small school has managed to acquire resources and support a talented staff completely via community and foundation support- though all of those in themselves are impressive and important.  No, what really left an impression on me was the sense of self the students have, the leadership qualities they emulate and the total and complete commitment to being an inclusive community that they all share. Not to mention the fact that all of the students embrace the idea of giving back- they are required to complete 10-15 hours of community service each year, depending on how old they are, but one student explained to me that most of the girls far exceed the required hours simply because they love volunteering in their community and they don’t see it as a chore.

At the end of the day I sat in on their community meeting. It was an interactive, lively hour with both students and faculty contributing stories and sharing ideas. It wrapped up with a shout out session where students were encouraged to give kudos to another student or teacher who had done something exceptional. Student after student stood to give props to someone else- mainly for things a lot of people either take for granted or don’t focus on. Simple things like being easy to work with, keeping cool in a tough situation, being brave enough to share a unique idea or making someone smile when they needed it most. The confidence that peer accolades help instill in an adolescent girl is immeasurable and you can tell that these girls benefit immensely from the positive reinforcement they get from their peers. These girls are building each other up, not tearing each other down. And all of them are completely invested in the core values of the school: Community, Citizenship, Leadership, and Excellence.

I love that the school is based on these values, because they are the essence of sustainability- the foundation we need to build and maintain successful local and global communities.

This school year OSS is providing an opportunity for 68 impoverished girls to empower themselves to become leaders in their school and their community and is giving them tools and experiences that will shape their future and the future of their families and our world. It’s giving them a chance to succeed. It is giving back to our community girls who can rule the world with knowledge, confidence, kindness and compassion.

This post is not an advertisement or request for support. And by no means do I think that OSS is the only school that emulates these values or graduates productive citizens- I know that so many schools now strive to educate the whole student and support their academic and social growth, just as they do at OSS. I see it in the schools my own kids attend. I just came away from my day with such a positive, hopeful, happy feeling that I felt I needed to share the good things that were happening there. And I know that these days lots of us need to feel hopeful for tomorrow. So, if you want to know more about this special little school and the important work happening there, click here: http://www.oursistersschool.org. Or if you want to share a story about a school you know, I’d love to hear it!

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