||Volume 12, Number 5, March 2000|
The facts of life:
Conferences for Grade 7 boys and Grade 7 girls
by Karen Kilbride
Are the needs of 12-year-old girls that different from those of 12-year-old boys? What goals should a Grade 7 Boys’ Conference achieve? Why should a teacher union support a boys’ conference or a girls’ conference?
Many BCTF locals have taken on the community role of planning a conference for girls who are in Grade 7. These Grade 7 girls conferences are extremely popular with the students, teachers, and parents. Student evaluations are very appreciative of the teachers who plan the conference and the many women in the community who present the sessions and provide the displays. Community response has a great deal to do with the topics presented and no two conferences follow the same plan.
North Vancouver was the first local to plan a girls’ conference at the Grade 7 level. They identified the transition from elementary school to secondary as a time “when girls leave a safe environment, where they are permitted to be children, to enter an adult environment where they are young women dealing with the issues that all women face.” A Grade 7 conference is an opportunity to build the girls’ self-esteem and to provide information to smooth their entry into secondary school.
In Langley, the Status of Women Committee has some of the girls’ mothers on the planning committee and as participants in special sessions just for mothers. The mothers filled out their conference evaluations with their daughters and both gave high ratings to the sessions they attended. Administration, students, and community members are also members of the planning committee. A common response on the evaluations was, “We needed more time in the sessions. There wasn’t enough time to discuss the ideas. Next time there should be more sessions to attend.”
A Grade 7 conference is more than a career fair. It is designed to help students thoughtfully prepare for the transition to a secondary school and to begin to set educational goals in a safe and supportive learning environment. Presentations at the girls’ conference range from self defense, football, theatre, and native culture and art, to sexual health and career choices. The emphasis is placed on personal safety, leadership roles, self-esteem, and health. The workshops are active and the girls are expected to participate and express their opinions and attitudes. In Surrey, the girls are lined up at 07:30 on a district PD day and they remain active and involved in their sessions until 14:30. The attendance is limited to 600 girls and many are turned away because of lack of space and resources. We could easily do two sites if we had enough speakers to present and enough funding.
The Surrey Grade 7 Boys’ Conference was held for the first time this spring. Three hundred boys participated. It was held on the same district PD day as the girls’ conference. The goals of the conference were very similar to the girls, “To provide a meaningful experience for Grade 7 boys before they embark upon their secondary school life.”
However, the workshops were very different. Sports and sports’ stars were the draw to get the boys to participate. Well-known football, basketball, and wrestling stars were included in the program to entice the boys to attend. Safety was a topic; car safety, and fire safety were the issues for boys. The RCMP and the Attorney General’s office presented workshops on the benefits of avoiding conflict and preventing bullying and avoiding drug use. A grant was received to present anti-bullying sessions. Many community sponsors donated sports equipment to help support the conference. The Province newspaper attended, and did a story on the split between girls and boys in school success.
The conference planning committee included female teachers and older female students to help organize the boys in their workshops. Unlike the girls conference where only females are involved, females are involved in many of the boys’ sessions. The demo team for karate used several older female students to show the kicks and moves in a sparring match for karate.
I was able to attend sessions at the boys and the girls conferences and I was most impressed by the participation of all the students I observed. One group of girls wrote a list of leadership qualities they admire. A good leader would be: disciplined, a good listener, helpful, supportive, non-judgemental, independent, understanding, trustworthy, humourous, interesting, creative, sincere, and fun.
Wouldn’t we want to see these qualities in our educational leaders?
Judy DeVries, the chair of the Langley Status of Women Committee ended her opening remarks with a comment that sums up the reasons why teachers should definitely commit the funds and the time to support Grade 7 conferences.
“Each person’s life is shaped by the big and the little choices they make. The committee is glad that you chose to come here today and hopes that you will make new friends, meet exciting role models, learn about yourself and others, and gain skills and confidence to meet the challenges of high school. We also hope that you learn that no matter what you meet on the road of life, there are people such as the people you meet here today who are willing to help and support you to become the person that you want to be.”
Karen Kilbride is the chairperson of the Status of Women Committee in Surrey and a member of the BCTF Feminist Caucus. She is a learning assistance teacher at Kennedy Trail Elementary School and White Rock Elementary School.
The BCTF has prepared a planning book for Grade 7 girls’ conferences. The booklet is written by Ieke Geise, North Vancouver and Margie Willers, Surrey. Copies may be obtained by calling Margaret Ross at the BCTF.