FleishmanHillard Women get “Schooled”
June 16, 2017
by Ruth Kim
When you walk into a middle school building, there is a certain smell of wood, varnish, paper, cleaning solvents, and teenage angst that takes you back in time — that odd rush of adrenaline and hint of anxiety.
In April, a group of FleishmanHillard women visited Marian Middle School, a small Catholic school (70 girls) in the city of St. Louis that is focused on breaking the cycle of poverty through an all-encompassing approach to education: “spiritual. academic, social, moral, emotional, and physical development.”
The school’s mission is to serve urban adolescent girls from diverse backgrounds (all religions, races, ethnicities) between grades 5 to 8. To be considered for enrollment, the girls must be eligible for the free lunch or reduced fee lunch program (a poverty-level indicator), demonstrate motivation, positive attitude, strong attendance, score within certain academic test range, and have at least one involved, caring adult who will participate actively.Education for one student costs $12,500 per year, but the average annual tuition paid by each family is around $400. The girls come from 23+ different zip codes in the metropolitan area. Some girls arrive at the school two to three grade levels behind their chronological grade; but, by the time they graduate, they are often a full grade or more ahead of their graduating class level.
President of the school, the charismatic and visionary Mary Elizabeth Grimes, welcomed me, Sydney Everett, Mil Galvin, Terry Hoffmann, Diane Poelker, and Chelsey Watts. She explained how the school has a rigorous curriculum that runs 10 months a year, with 10 hour days, and includes a focus on STEM as well as cultural, civic, and personal health and development. The school takes a comprehensive approach to developing the whole person, and supports the girls beyond middle school through high school, college, and into the first job, by offering assistance in admissions applications, continued emotional support and mentoring, scholarship and job search/fit assistance.
President Grimes matched six eighth grade students with the six FleishmanHillard women. Although the purported purpose of the session was for the girls to ask us questions about careers, jobs, and life and to practice interaction with professionals, it seemed the FleishmanHillard women learned every bit as much, if not more, from these young women. Our hearts broke hearing their stories of personal or family adversity; and then our hearts soared hearing the confidence, optimism, and intelligence in their voices. Clearly, the rigorous focus and constant engagement by the school was life-changing. Each of the girls has been admitted to a prestigious high school.
After the very affecting one-on-one conversations, the FleishmanHillard women had fun attending the daily school assembly. In addition to administrative announcements, various student reports on class or group activities, and “word of the day” drills, we saw how the mandatory, full-school meeting reinforced positivity, culture, pride in academics, and community within the school.
The girls hosted us for lunch and more conversation. The school creates a culture where the girls look out for each other. During lunch, one of the girls came over to my young lunch companion, M, and without saying a word M scooped up all of her sweet potatoes fries and gave them to her friend. I looked at M quizzically, and she simply shrugged and said, “I know sweet potatoes are her favorite.”
Our day wrapped up with a tour of the school’s facilities, including remarkable, versatile spaces.
We left middle school that day without resurfacing any latent junior high angst. Instead, we were almost giddy with energy, wonderment, and hopefulness for the future – just because of the promise we saw in the young women we met. Remarkable day.