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Empowering female students central to SFUSD curriculum

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Women rally outside of City Hall on Wednesday in San Francisco for International Women’s Day. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)

By second grade, more than two thirds of male and female students who were part of a University of Washington study said that math is a “male activity.” Really? Why would 7-year-old students believe this?

March is Women’s History Month, and a significant part of women’s historical — and sadly, present — reality is about overcoming gender stereotypes and discrimination. I hope that at the San Francisco Unified School District, children are learning about women’s history each and every day. I also hope that our female students experience school as inclusive and empowering. Here are a few ways I know this is happening:

STEM Access

I’ve mentioned before that we are rolling out computer science to all grade levels — even preschool — but I bet you didn’t know more and more SFUSD girls are now taking these classes. Two years ago, only 161 girls were enrolled in computer science classes here. Today, 4,450 girls in SFUSD schools are participating.

When I visit these classes, I see the way students are embracing the try-fail-try again process that is part of learning to code. They are fearless and engaged. But what do these students do when they’ve mastered a bit of code? Time and again, they run over to other classmates to share what they’ve just learned.

Not only do I see excellent teaching and learning, I see future programmers, designers and engineers.


In a classroom on the second floor of Mission High, you’ll find this written on a white board: “I am. I am beautiful and black. I am vibrant. I am worthy of all things this world has to offer. I am spirit-filled. I am confident. I am unbreakable. I am me.”

Right now, 20 girls are enrolled in the SFUSD’s first African American Female Empowerment course and they start their days with this mantra.

In this elective course, students read, write, reflect and meet with mentors. The girls talk about the unique and sometimes shared problems they encounter in their daily lives, support each other to persist and thrive and explore possible careers.

And guess what? The course is co-taught by Ms. Destiny Joseph, a current Mission High math teacher and a graduate of Mission High. I love that this talented educator decided to come back and work at her old alma mater.

More Alumni Leaders

Guess who else is leading by example? The women on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. There are now six of them.

Four of these women — London Breed, Malia Cohen, Sandra Fewer and Katy Tang — graduated from our very own SFUSD high schools.

Supervisor Breed spoke at a rally last week for International Women’s Day on the steps of City Hall. Breed spoke of her grandmother who raised her. She set an example for her as one of the millions of women who took care of her children and grandchildren and her community.

“We don’t just talk about what we’re going to do,” Breed said, “we roll up our sleeves and get it done.”

Thank you to all of these amazing girls and women in our community. And because there is so much more to say on this topic, I plan to share more with you over the next few weeks.

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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