Students challenged to look beyond female stereotypes

March 29, 1992|By Drew Bailey | Drew Bailey,Staff Writer

Fifth-grader Kendra Chance left City Hall with a $50 savings bond and a Spider-Man comic book, and teacher Barbara McCutcheon says the Harford Heights Elementary School pupil actually left with something far more valuable -- a new perspective on women and herself.

Kendra was one of six winners in a Women's History Month poster/essay contest. Her colorful piece, titled "Women of Many Lives," summed up the lesson she'd learned: Women can do anything.

"I wanted to show that women can do more than just one thing," Kendra said, dressed in her green plaid school uniform, and gesturing toward her first-place masterpiece.

"They can play basketball, they can be construction workers, or they can be a judge."

The Baltimore City Commission on Women has sponsored the contest at Harford Heights for the past three years. The school has been adopted by the commission under the city's Adopt-a-School program. Students were instructed to draw or write about a woman who had been a positive influence in their lives. The woman could be a relative, a stranger, a teacher or someone famous.

Kendra said she was inspired to draw her picture after learning in school that women really can choose any profession they want.

That message is not always clearly presented in some television shows, especially the ones from the "old days," said Kendra, who wants to be a veterinarian.

Donna Gaither, BCCW executive director, said that the contest and activities are held to enlighten students like Kendra.

"Society in general -- history books, the media -- does not always acknowledge the important contributions women have made," Ms. Gaither said.

"This makes them think about women in their lives and how much they contribute."

Harford Heights students have spent the last month watching films and participating in discussions and field trips that focus on contributions women make.

Ms. McCutcheon said that the change the students undergo during the lessons is dramatic. "At first the students see the world as very divided for men and women -- or that it is just a man's world," Ms. McCutcheon said.

"Now they've gotten to the point where they don't necessarily believe that. They've changed their attitude about females."

Ms. McCutcheon also said elementary school teachers, most of whom are women, play a big role in forming children's perception of females.

In many instances, a student will view all women in a negative light if a teacher is very strict and authoritarian, she said.

"We try to show them the positive sides," said Ms. McCutcheon, who has taught for 32 years. "We want them to see that women aren't just 'that tyrant that disciplines me.' "

Most of the essays, like that of fifth-grader Shaneka Bailey, were written about the contestant's relatives.

Shaneka's essay spoke about her admiration for her grandmother's ability to help others, despite having muscular dystrophy, and placed first in the essay portion.

In the art category, Kendra's picture of six women in different job settings won first place.

Second- and third-place winners in the essay category were fifth-graders LaToya Dates and Chandra Allen respectively.

Third-grader Jahon Jones placed second in the art contest.

Second-grader Cierra Summers placed third.

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