FreedomWork Profile: Columbus City Prep School for Girls
City: Columbus, Ohio
At the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, we highlight the findings, policies, and practices that push Black girls out of schools and into the criminal legal system. Equally important, are the solutions or FreedomWork. These are transformative and healing practices and programs in the U.S. and abroad to help our girls learn, grow and thrive.
Principal Stephanie Patton, the head of Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls in Ohio, is a leading example. Her approach to education is reshaping how Black girls learn, lead, and leverage their voice. An educator for more than 25 years, Principal Patton is widely respected for her transformative leadership. She became the head of Columbus City Prep School for Girls - one of the few all girl’s schools in Ohio – in 2014. Today, she overseas 350 girls from grades six through eight.
Patton’s holistic approach to education is rooted in data and understanding what drives girls’ instruction and culture. “There are noticeable differences in learning behaviors for girls and boys,” she says. For instance, Patton notes girls’ learning is often hindered by underlying factors like perfectionism, anxiety, exhaustion, and trauma. “A strategy to lessen these triggers is to provide girls with clear objectives and outcomes and safe spaces,” states Principal Patton. “In doing so, we can create nurturing environments to increase our girls’ focus, build their confidence, and develop their voice.”
Principal Patton also has a restorative approach to school discipline. In many schools across the country, Black girls are the only girls overrepresented along the discipline continuum. This is not the case for Columbus City Prep School for Girls. For instance, the latest data shows that the school’s alternatives to school discipline resulted in the lowest number of suspensions in the school district among traditional middle schools in Quarter One – nine.
“We are decreasing at-risk behaviors and at-risk outcomes for our girls,” says Patton. With a similar approach to teaching, Principal Patton prioritizes addressing the underlying causes of behavioral infractions. For instance, each student is paired with an adult to receive individualized care and support. “Every girl knows exactly who to see if they have a problem or need to talk,” she says. The school also offers a Student Wellness Center and the Learning Lounge Inspiration Station. These spaces are quiet and therapeutic with diverse options for girls (e.g., music, yoga, reading and meditation) to self-reflect, focus and de-escalate from life’s stressors.
Principal Patton credits her teachers who are trained to employ one of these alternatives before suggesting disciplinary action for their students. However, many students are self-referred. “Our girls know at any time during the day, these resources are available to them. Most of them use it voluntarily.”
To support both teachers and parents, Principal Patton provides ongoing training and programming. Every Wednesday, teacher staff meetings are coined Wellness Wednesday. Teachers can reset and recharge with popular wellness techniques. The school also offers resources for parents. Past workshops included topics like managing anxiety. Next year, her team is preparing a workshop especially for fathers entitled, “How Long Does Puberty Last?” “A lot of our dads really want to be involved in their girls’ lives – they just need to know how,” states Patton.
Principal Patton graduated her first-class last year. With ingenuity, innovation, and creativity, Principal Patton demonstrates all the possibilities to decrease bias in schools and give our girls an opportunity to thrive. “For me, FreedomWork means empowering our girls today to become tomorrow’s leaders,” Patton says. “Black women are among the most educated in this country. But, we must be confident enough to show up. It is my life’s work to make sure our girls can go to any boardroom and are brave, have a voice, and are ready to make a difference in society.”
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