D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced an initiative to empower girls and young women in the District of Columbia public school system, following criticism for building a school only for boys but not one for girls. The mayor appeared with Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Niles and D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson at Kelly Middle School on March 26 with Principal, Kortni Stafford to announce Reign: Empower Young Women as Leaders.
“As we continue making the investments necessary to give every student in the D.C.P.S. a world-class education and the resources and support they need to reach their full potential, Reign will ensure that our young women of color are not left behind,” Bowser said. “We know that different students have different needs and that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Next school year is just the beginning for Reign and, in fitting with the goals of the initiative, we will continue to expand the program based on the feedback we receive from the young women in our schools.”
Some District residents and leaders expressed concerns in 2015 and 2016 that while District boys of color were being educated through services by the Empowering Males of Color (EMOC) initiative that is designed to increase academic and life skills, there was nothing for young women. D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) engaged D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine to write an opinion on the all-boys initiative that includes the all-male public high school, the Ron Brown Preparatory High School in Deanwood in Northeast Washington. Racine issued an opinion later that said the city’s EMOC was legally sound.
Bowser is well-acquainted with female-based education, she is a graduate of Catholic, all-girls Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Md. and Chatham University in Pittsburgh when it was an all-women’s college.
According to the mayor’s press release, there are three pillars of Reign: 1) creating spaces for young women of color to build community, confidence, and leadership skills, 2) ensuring that schools are empowering places for young women of color, 3) launching Reign Innovation grants to improve academic and social outcomes for young women of color.
“Through Reign, we will be able to help more of our young women of color grow into the leaders we know they can be,” Wilson said. “This is a critical socio-emotional investment across health, wellness and identity for our young women of color, which will allow us to better support our students as we work to close the achievement gap.”
Wilson said feedback from young women across the city drove the Reign initiative. “Young women told us that they want to support one another, develop leadership skills that help them have careers in politics, after-school programs and activities that help them build their self-confidence,” the chancellor said. “Basically, these young women want schools to be places where they feel valued.”
Wilson said that Reign will cost approximately $1 million.
It was noted that there was no proposal to create an all-girls public school and Bowser said that was done by design.”Again, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation,” the mayor said. “We want to deliver services the way the children need them and we want to address the needs of girls.”
Bowser also has plenty of support in her girls’ initiative.
“Reign is fantastic,” At-Large D.C. State Board of Education member Ashley Carter told the AFRO. “This initiative will improve the learning of young women.”