Douglas County schools seek to bolster gender equity in classes

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One of the biggest challenges in education is attracting students to careers that have long been identified with one gender. But changes are brewing, and some recent efforts by Douglas County educators have drawn national attention.

These efforts were highlighted at the National Summit for Educational Equity, held April 11-14 in Alexandria, Virginia. Douglas County was represented by Analicia Nicholson of Douglas Education Service District, Sheri Carson of Roseburg Public Schools and Kristi Hurt of Umpqua Community College. The conference was organized by the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity. Attendees also were able to visit Capitol Hill while Congress was in session.

One conference topic was finding ways to expand participation in nontraditional fields, defined as occupations in which males or females comprise less than 25 percent of the workforce. Two examples are encouraging females to take manufacturing classes or males to enroll in early childhood courses.

Carson, who teaches family consumer studies at Roseburg High, said she already knew Oregon needed to improve its numbers in this area, but the conference showed her the problem is nationwide.

“The other big takeaway I had from the conference was the House representatives and senators that we met are pushing for Career & Technical Education to be valued on at least the same level as core classes,” she said. “They believe, as I always have, that the stronger the CTE programs and backing in an area, the more jobs that are available to improve and stabilize the economy.”  

Carson said RHS learned through student surveys that ill-fitting safety equipment was one reason girls identified for not taking manufacturing classes. Investing $350 on smaller welding helmets, jackets and gloves was one action that helped girls feel more comfortable in welding classes.

Roseburg High also made sure students knew about CTE classes by starting Freshman Cruise class. This involves rotating every freshman through all RHS CTE courses for a week. Between the Freshman Cruise, new safety equipment and instructor efforts, enrollment of girls in manufacturing jumped from four to 38 in just one semester, Carson said.  

Hurt said UCC has also ordered safety equipment in smaller sizes and, like Roseburg High, is helping instructors understand ways to make nontraditional fields more welcoming. Hurt said that can be a difficult prospect, in part because of what NAPE refers to as “micromessages.” These are subtle, unconscious messages sent through language or other interactions that may have negative consequences and discourage students.

“Part of what I took away from the conference is that instructors need to be aware that there is inequity in the playing field,” said Hurt, UCC educational partnerships specialist. “I think a lot of it is just being conscious of what you are saying and how you are treating students.”

Nicholson, director of instructional services at Douglas ESD, said Roseburg’s investment in safety equipment was well received at the conference, as was regional implementation of NAPE career toolkits that focus on micromessages.

She said Douglas County school districts use the toolkits to offer guidance on challenging cultural stereotypes and recognizing bias. They’ve been able to explore these and related NAPE models through regular meetings that don’t add to educators’ schedules and duties.

Nicholson said she, Carson and Hurt were pleased by the warm reception extended to their conference presentation.

“It was great to learn we are doing things in Douglas County that other places across the country are interested in replicating,” she said.

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