Dear McGehee Parents,
In 1912, Miss McGehee created a school for young women that would rival any of the college preparatory schools already in existence for young men. Graduates of McGehee were expected to face challenges head on, to discover issues that impassioned them, and to think critically about the issues of the day.
Our School’s founder made a commitment early on to persuade her students to learn of and confront controversial subjects. She reportedly invited many speakers to campus to provide her students with the opportunity to hear from different perspectives. Some of those speakers included several who had very strong opinions, including poets and essayists, activists, and a famous socialist leader, among others. She knew that her students needed to learn about the world and deserved a thorough, well-rounded education to enable them to take on lives of consequence.
The aim of the school has not wavered; McGehee remains committed to providing a sound education to girls and young women to allow them to develop leadership skills, live honorable lives, and serve their communities to make those places stronger and better.
Rather than providing us with a clear vision, 2020 has certainly given us more than a fair share of cloudy challenges–a cascade of crises really–related to public health, the economy, racial justice and equity, as well as civil and political discord. However, just like McGehee always has, we look to our mission and values to help us thoughtfully navigate complexity:
The mission of The Louise S. McGehee School is to provide a rigorous college-preparatory education to girls in an inclusive environment which fosters self-esteem, encourages high personal standards, addresses individual student needs, and emphasizes active student participation in the learning process. The program uses traditional and innovative teaching strategies to challenge students and to foster enthusiasm and a commitment to lifelong learning.
In order to fulfill our mission to be active participants in the learning process, students must practice the skills that they are learning. It is our responsibility as educators to provide them with tools and the opportunity to use those tools in order to build competency and agency.
A beacon of our program is to encourage the development of student agency. In my doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania, I posited that one way to locate safe passage through adolescence involves the establishment of competencies that foster a sense of agency in girls including: a voice
to express informed opinions, the ability to make decisions
, the development of self-confidence
, a capacity to organize
, and the vision or ability to motivate others
. Agency is the ability to make decisions about one’s life and take actions to achieve a desired outcome and is critical in the development of global citizenship. As an all girls’ school, we are uniquely positioned to show our students that it is acceptable to make a mistake–to sometimes fail when boldly attempting something new. At McGehee, precisely because we are an all-girls' environment, our students can confidently develop their own agency.
We encourage our girls to be bold while at the same time thoughtful, confident, curious, creative, and resilient. Each year, our students take chances in the classroom, often trying new ideas on for size, all the while learning about respect and civil discourse. McGehee girls learn quickly that they can disagree with one another yet still find common ground to allow for meaningful discussion and debate. This is how we teach girls to learn and to lead rather than become part of a “call out” or “cancel” culture. We teach them how to think, not what to think; we teach them that real dialogue and real discussion involves active listening and analysis and is not one-sided. We teach our students to advocate and ask questions, to take risks and grow. These skills are vital to becoming meaningful participants in a democracy.
This summer and fall, several members of our faculty and administration have been part of a task force on civil discourse. Their role has been to outline our values around civil discourse, using the School’s mission as a guide. As active learners, critical thinkers, and members of a wonderfully multicultural community, our students will gain and practice the skills necessary to lead with compassion and humility, while fairly evaluating and analyzing available data. Attached here is a document that outlines the work of the task force.
We think it serves as an appropriate guide as we navigate through challenging times.
Further, in an effort to foster greater civil discourse among our community members, dedicated groups of faculty and administrators will be reaching out to students, parents, alumnae, and board members as part of our Equitable Community working groups. These working groups are designed to serve as a continuation of our faculty focus groups from the summer. The main themes that emerged during our summer focus groups were used to generate questions for discussion. After including a variety of voices, each group will draft proposals for the consideration of our Board of Trustees.
If you are interested in being contacted for an interview about any of these topics, please indicate your interest via this survey
Civil discourse is one of the most important issues facing us today–it affects us socially, politically, and educationally. How best can we speak, listen, debate, make a decision, and move to action? How do we do so thoughtfully and respectfully? This process is an essential one in our democratic society, yet our digital age seems to have supplanted dialogue with diatribes. As educators, we take the responsibility of teaching our future leaders how to engage in real discourse to bolster not only our school community, but to live up to our founders in creating “a more perfect union”.
Dr. Kim Field-Marvin
Head of School