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Study on Bermuda’s girls is needed expert

There’s an old saying, little girls are made of sugar and spice, but when Dr Monique Jethwani-Keyser conducted interviews with 17 Bermuda teenage girls, she found them to be more spice than sugar.

The girls she interviewed were more likely to talk back, act out and break school rules than boys the same age.

Dr Jethwani-Keyser is a post doctoral research scientist at the Center for Research on Fathers, Children, and Family Well Being at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Her mixed methods dissertation entitled ‘When Teachers Treat Me Well, I Think I Belong: School Belonging and the Psychological and Academic Well Being of Adolescent Girls in India’ earned her the New York University Steinhardt award for outstanding research contribution.

While conducting research on boys in Bermuda, as part of the ‘Out of School and on the Wall’ report sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies, she also got a glimpse of girlhood in Bermuda.

Although she hastens to add that she did not do any formal analysis on Bermuda girls, what she learned suggested that while girls may be ahead of boys in some areas of life, they also have issues that need to be addressed.

“I got involved because back in 2007 the government commissioned the Ronald Mincy report at Columbia University in New York. (A study of employment, earnings, and educational gaps between young black Bermudian males and their same-age peers).

“Once they did the analysis the scientists were left wondering why these discrepancies were there. They bought me in to do the qualitative work.

“When a study is done that identifies some social problem I come in and talk to the people who are most impacted by the problem,” she said. “I think from a world perspective, the emphasis has been on girls in terms of access to education.

“In many parts of the world girls don’t go as far as boys in school, but in more developed countries girls are tending to go further.”

She found that Bermuda follows the trend of other developed countries. Girls are going further in school and tend to be employed more in the financial sector than men and boys.

“In some of the interviews I have done with girls, the financial sector may not be their first industry of choice,” said Dr Jethwani-Keyser. “Considering the current economic climate, the financial sector does have some of the highest earning potential.

“If boys don’t access higher education, they can’t get into the financial sector. The positives about women are that, in general, more black Bermudian woman are attending college here and overseas.

“There are more women in the financial sector, although it is not necessarily what they want to do. A lot of them talk about owning their own beauty shop, or becoming teachers. A lot of them are interested in the sciences. But they realise that going into the financial sector is the way they can earn enough to support their children.”

In school, Dr Jethwani-Keyser learned, girls were more likely to speak out about their emotions and were more likely to seek academic support.

“That doesn’t mean the teachers are more willing to give to more academic or emotional support to girls,” she said, “but there is some evidence that girls are more groomed to reach higher education.”

She said there was a perception in the community that girls are more likely to do better in school and go further, and this might be a self-fulfilling prophecy that gets the girls pushed further.

Dr Jethwani-Keyser did a small focus group with adults and found that the negatives were that black Bermudian women are more likely to be single parents than white Bermudian women or black Bermudian men.

“Pregnancy is a concern among teenage girls on the Island,” said Dr Jethwani-Keyser. “One of the girls I interviewed has since had a baby.”

And she said that girls in the community were not immune to the gang violence, in fact, they were deeply affected by it.

“The girls were exhibiting high levels of fear in response to the escalating community violence,” said Dr Jethwani-Keyser. “I found the girls were getting into a lot of trouble at school.

“There were twice as many discipline referrals for the girls than the boys and twice as many unexcused absences. Out of 17 girls I talked with, more than half of them had already been suspended from school during the first year.

“They were getting into trouble, being disrespectful to teachers, disobeying school rules, and disrupting class. The fighting was the same for girls and boys.

“Girls were clustered more around disobeying school rules and being rude. That is where the girls were exceeding the boys.

“The only area where boys were slightly more likely than girls to get in trouble was for theft or destruction of property.”

She thought the girls were no less touched by community violence and family conflict.

“They are not excluded from it,” she said. “Although we have recommendations for boys, it is not to say girls don’t need guidance counselling and social support in school.”

Dr Jethwani-Keyser said one thing that was concerning was that if boys received higher education they tended to earn more than women in the same jobs, which meant that women in Bermuda are still encountering the proverbial glass ceiling.

“Clearly, that is a problem for the women,” said Dr Jethwani-Keyser. “Women are raising families by themselves and earning less, which might explain why they have to get further education.

“They have to go further in school to earn enough for their families. Women talked a lot about the need to work so much, encountering the glass ceiling and the need to work so much to make ends meet.”

She said she would love to do a follow up report, looking at the state of girls in Bermuda.

One of her concerns for young people in Bermuda is the zero tolerance policies in schools.

She said it is used in 94 percent of schools in the United States, and there is no evidence that it decreases problem behaviours.

“The fact that schools in Bermuda are taking on these policies is concerning,” she said. “As a response to the fear that girls are experiencing and the family discord and community violence that too many youth experience, I recommended that schools adopt The Safe Harbor model.

“The core of this model is a room in the school that is staffed by a social worker and designated as a safe space where students, families and staff of the school community are welcome to visit and simply relax and cool down, or to participate in conflict resolution, counselling or curriculum classes.

“School personnel can refer students throughout the school day to discuss what is on their minds before disciplinary action is taken.

“The safe harbour model frees teachers of the responsibility to address the sources of problem behaviours in their classrooms, and provides a complement to zero tolerance policies by offering students the social emotional guidance and support they need to achieve in school.

For more information see the website http://www.crfcfw.columbia.edu/. Also see a series of policy briefs that summarise the findings.

These can be found on the Atlantic Philanthropies website: http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/news/lack-support-leaves-bermudas-young-men-scrap-heap-report.

Dr Monique Jethwani-Keyser

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Published August 02, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 02, 2011 at 9:05 am)

Study on Bermuda’s girls is needed expert

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