Our Support Services team offers assistance to students in the classroom and beyond.
“Students attending all-girls schools experience higher levels of support from their classmates, teachers, and administrators than do their female peers at coeducational schools.”—Richard A. Holmgren, Ph.D., “Steeped in Learning: The student experience at all-girls schools”
Throughout her time at GPS, a girl is presented with opportunities to discover her passions, express her opinions, and develop lifelong relationships. Along the way she will also encounter situations that require her to manage her time, harness her emotions, and deal with conflict. She will navigate the sometimes rocky path of adolescence, while gleaning ideas and concepts that will help her in the even steeper summits of the real world.
Thankfully, she’s not expected to do it alone. If she struggles, she is aided by teachers, coaches, advisors, deans, and school counselors who can help her regain her footing. When she needs assistance completing or understanding her classwork, tutoring is available. When she wants perspective on a situation that seems overwhelming, a trusted adult can help her sort through the muck that often accompanies adolescence.
“In order for young people to learn, they must feel emotionally and physically safe,” shares Rosalind Wiseman, in “Cultures of Dignity.” “They must have confidence that the adults who teach them are competent and care about their well-being.”
During her time at GPS, she will be surrounded by adults whose primary roles are to support her in every aspect of her development as a woman of integrity and purpose. “We want her learning to include not just academics, but also life skills, self-care, learning to deal with disappointment, coping with stress, and overcoming adversity,” says Heather Landreth, Counseling Specialist and Support Services Department Chair. “We watch and listen carefully to ensure she has a qualified team of adults supporting her each step of the way.”
In the adolescent years, girls face many challenges associated with the changing nature of friendships and emotions. When combined with the demands of school and cocurricular activities, the pressure and stress can take its toll.
Our deans of students have found that some girls can set unrealistic goals for themselves and live under the weight of their own perfectionism. “I’ve had students say to me that their goal is to get through GPS without any demerits,” says Sarah Young Jackson ’06, Dean of Upper School. “And I tell them that’s a bad goal. We don’t expect them to be perfect. Mistakes and bad decisions are a part of growing up. We do expect them to accept consequences for their behavior or bad choices, learn from them, and move forward.
“When a girl experiences conflict, we often ask, What role did you play in this? A lot of what we do is help girls take agency over themselves. We help them realize that while you have no control over what someone else says or does, you can control your behavior and your actions.”
This idea of agency or ownership is instilled beginning in Middle School, when each girl signs the Honor Code, which clearly states what is expected of her and is reinforced each time she takes a test and writes: On my honor, I have neither given nor received help on this test, nor will I discuss it. The Honor System became a formal part of GPS in 1945 and remains in place to keep the school community safe, encourage trust between students and faculty, and reinforce a mindset of integrity and morality girls will draw from their entire lives.
In sixth grade, every girl takes Skills Class. Topics include personal organization, study skills, self-awareness, boundaries with peers, hygiene, and brain and body functions. Taught by Middle School Counselor Casey Caldwell ’08, the class meets once a week for the entire school year and also addresses anxiety and stress management, conflict resolution, and effective communication.
In seventh grade students dive deeper into human growth and development, gender stereotypes and inequality, body image, puberty, sexuality, self-awareness and self-control. Taught by Heather Landreth and Katie Outlaw, the curriculum includes The Confidence Code for Girls and What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls. “We also provide a confidential question box so the girls can submit something they’d like to ask,” Outlaw says. “It’s helpful for the girls to get real answers to their questions.”
In eighth grade students take Changes and Choices with continued discussions about body image, self-awareness, friendships, and self-esteem in Changes and Choices. Eighth-graders also complete the Dove Self-Esteem Project.
In the Upper School, Support Services partners with the science department during the biology unit to broaden the conversation to include the importance of making healthful choices.
“We help her understand that no one girl is one way or another,” Landreth says. “She is a complex person capable of many different decisions and opportunities.”
As a college preparatory school, GPS is known for its academic excellence. Along the way, certain subjects will prove to be particularly challenging and require help outside the regular classroom setting. Teachers make themselves available during help class so girls can seek out additional assistance with assignments.
Upstairs in the Davenport Middle School building, the Learning Center classroom offers students a quiet place to work independently or with a tutor. Members of National Honor Society serve as volunteer tutors, or students can schedule times to meet with Renee Romero, Learning Specialist, or their teachers.
Additionally, some students require access to services for learning challenges such as attention deficit disorder, vision or hearing impairments, or dyslexia. “Sometimes a student struggles with executive skills and is easily distracted or disorganized,” Outlaw says. “We can work with her to provide quiet spaces, modify her schedule, or allow extended times during exams and coach her through some organizational skills.”
With a Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.) in school psychology and experience working in primarily public schools, Outlaw says, “GPS provides the most support for students of any place I’ve ever worked. Our smaller class sizes, communication between parents and teachers, advisory times, and access to professional development and community professionals all come together to meet each girl’s needs.”
To help parents best support their girls, GPS brings professional speakers and authors to campus to share their research and wisdom. Typically offered the evening before the speakers present to students during IMPACT period, the Girl Matters | Girls Matter series addresses topics such as resiliency, depression, body image, and more.
For those who cannot attend these evening sessions, resources are posted to MyGPS (the GPS parent portal) in the Support Services tab. This includes links to video presentations, articles, and contacts for our school’s professional team.
Outlaw says the most rewarding part of her job is seeing the successes—helping girls navigate through the socio-emotional challenges and relationships with peers and adults, and hearing about their improvements from parents and teachers. “I really enjoy the dialog we have with parents,” she says. “Our Parent Coffees get parents on campus so they can meet with us and ask questions, which then allows us to support them and help them continue the dialog at home with their girls that we start here on campus.”
When adults work together to provide a nurturing, personalized, and comprehensive support system, nothing could be better for helping girls develop into women who are strong and capable and can own their futures.