Mean girls. Queen bees. Frenemies. You may notice these common misnomers popping up in conversation when you mention that it’s time for your daughter to go to middle school. Well-meaning friends and family may only want to “warn” you of what’s coming next, but in reality, they’re perpetuating a stereotype that is not only harmful to you and your daughter, but is, in most cases, untrue.
What is true is that during their adolescent years, girls are masterful at forging connections and building relationships. Yes, those friendships may include ups, downs, and everything in-between, but oftentimes, those big feelings are the result of girls becoming deeply connected to one another. In middle school, girls value the opinions of their friends and they seek out feedback from their social circles. They push boundaries and try new things to better understand what they like and don’t like. They hold strong opinions. They care a lot about what others think.
At The Ellis School, we believe all of these behaviors are developmentally appropriate and that they are like superpowers. Because middle school girls are so attuned to their environment, they are perfectly primed to develop keen empathy, deep caring for themselves and one another, and a persistent moral compass. That’s why teaching girls how to use their superpowers for good is at the center of the Ellis Middle School experience.
In our all-girls environment, you can find exercises in empathy stitched into the fabric of every class and activity. Reflecting on universal experiences that unite us is one approach that teachers regularly use. Celebrating the differences that make us unique and interesting is another. Middle School students explore their identities and burgeoning skillsets in our distinctive advisory program. During this designated time, students connect with their faculty advisors and peers to engage in constructive dialogue. They navigate what it means to have a healthy self-image. They practice communication, collaboration, negotiation, and advocacy skills. As a result, girls grow their self-confidence and form a sense of agency that empowers them to pursue their dreams.
Affinity groups—which bring together students who have something important in common, e.g., race, gender, religion, or special interests—support ongoing identity development and are available to students starting in grade 5. These groups provide space and guidance for students to initiate complex conversations about themselves and their relationships with others. They can learn to ask timely and complicated questions about their identities and the identities of others with sensitivity and positive intent. They can take stock of how their words and actions impact others.
At Ellis, it’s not a question of whether middle school girls are mean; it’s a question of how they build the skills they need to engage deeply in order to grow into powerful advocates—for themselves and for each other. At Ellis, girls don’t practice being nice. They practice how to be themselves and how to make space for others to be themselves, too.
Do you want your daughter to be part of a cohort of girls who support and uplift each other?