Stop Pushing Girls Out of the Classroom and Just 'Let Her Learn'

May 9, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Kayla Patrick

Every day girls are being pushed out of the classroom. Some of them are unseen. Many of them are unheard. And too often they are victims of discrimination and untreated trauma. About a year ago the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) embarked on a project to hear the stories of girls around the country and uplift their stories. Together with policymakers, advocates, teachers, parents and students, we are fighting to make schools healthier and safer for girls. As part of this campaign, NWLC did exhaustive research, conducted several focus groups and surveyed over 1,000 girls ages 14-18 across the country—culminating in the release of seven reports telling the story of how girls are unsupported, excluded and often even pushed out of school. Each report tells a different story. However, trauma is the common thread that is woven through each report. The Let Her Learn Survey found that over 2 in 3 girls reported having symptoms related to PTSD. Many of these girls have experiences that would be difficult for any adult including sexual and physical violence, homelessness and interaction with the criminal justice system. One in 3 girls reported experiencing either sexual assault or other forms of violence. Similarly, 1 in 5 girls reported being sexually assaulted. And nearly 1 in 9 girls reported experiencing homelessness. These traumatic experiences make it difficult for girls to concentrate in school, and in some cases, make it difficult for girls to stay in school.   In addition to trauma, many girls are struggling to overcome layers of discrimination on the basis of race, sex and national origin. And given the current makeup of our country, many girls fit into more than one category and experience overlapping discrimination. NWLC’s report on girls of color details and uncovers the many barriers Black, Latina, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American girls face. The Let Her Learn survey shows over half of Latina girls (55 percent) worry about a friend or family member being deported. And considering the political climate in this country, it is perhaps unsurprising that more than 1 in 6 girls reported being harassed after the 2016 presidential election. The country’s climate has a negative effect on girls, demonstrated by the large numbers of girls who reported being called a racial slur, including 46 percent of Asian Pacific Islander girls—the group of girls reporting the highest rate of this kind of harassment.
  In many ways, schools could do more to aide students of color to do well in school. Nearly half of Native American girls (48 percent) said that not having access to the courses they want makes it hard to go to school. And even when there appears to be access, girls of color are somehow excluded. NWLC’s analysis found that Black girls are disproportionately suspended in every state. The analysis also found that the more students of color there were in a school, the more likely that school was to have a sworn law enforcement officer. Our analysis also found that Black girls made up 37 percent of school arrests and 15 percent of school enrollment. The survey also asked girls for solutions. Girls overwhelmingly said they wanted help applying to college, access to better classes and teachers to be trained to recognize the signs of trauma and mental illness. Girls’ message is simple yet clear. They are resilient and optimistic about their future and are seeking support and opportunities to further their education. Just Let Her Learn.

Kayla Patrick

Kayla Patrick is a senior education policy analyst with a deep interest in using data-based analysis to inform U.S. education policy and practices, especially to improve the lives of underserved children of color. Her expertise includes school discipline policies and college and career readiness. Kayla worked at the National Women’s Law Center, where she conducted research and data analysis on critical issues that impact women and girls. While there, she led a team to produce a well-publicized report, Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout for Girls. She also co-authored a report with 20 Black girls in Washington D.C. titled “Dress Coded,” which highlighted the harmful effects of dress codes on girls’ education. This work was recently cited in the education platform of 2020 presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren and will soon be featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's exhibit on girlhood. Kayla received her bachelor's degree in political science from Wellesley College and her master's in education policy from Teachers College at Columbia University.

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