Equipping young women to become global trendsetters
The ladies of Detroit International Academy for Young Women have a few advantages over students in the traditional co-ed school setting, according to Popy Aziz, a senior at the school.
- No boys to cause a distraction in the classroom.
- A sisterhood formed by a diverse student population including Bangladeshi, African-American, Hispanic and Caucasian, allowing the young women to comfortably learn about each unique culture.
- Most importantly, a bond to help one another succeed during their school years and beyond.
While sitting in the Robotics Room — appropriately adorned with pink décor to match the school’s Pink Panther mascot theme — filled with various sizes of robots and the engineering tools needed to win dozens of awards garnered by the only all-girls Robotics Team in the district, Aziz eagerly awaits her 20 “other sisters” who make up the VEX and FIRST Robotics Team. The young ladies of all ages and ethnicities drift into the room one by one to take a group photo. Aziz silently counts to determine who is present, then cheerfully tells Principal Beverly Hibbler that it’s OK to proceed.
It’s obvious that Aziz is a natural leader and role model amongst the group. But she didn’t always see herself this way.
Aziz entered DIA after her family moved to Detroit nine years ago from Bangladesh in order for her father to begin working in the automotive industry. She started at another elementary school. By eighth grade, her family chose DIA because of its single-gender population and strong tie to the Bangladeshi community.
“Go out into the world… and actually be a part of it.”
“My main goal in coming here was to break myself from guys. I noticed when I was in elementary school, I was getting distracted and I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do,” Aziz recalls with a shy grin. “The academic levels are also really high and it was a small population, too. So it made me more comfortable. … It helps me to have a better view of education so that I can have hands-on training.”
When asked what they love most about the school, many of the girls share the same sentiment: the strong sisterhood they’ve formed with other students, teachers and administrators. They also agree that DIA has helped them to become leaders.
“Our teachers show us how to go out into the world and actually be a part of it,” says Aziz, who may possibly attend U of M Ann Arbor to study engineering in the fall. “(DIA) made me into a person who can go out there into the world … I was a very shy student in elementary and middle school. When I came here, I actually learned how to communicate with other people, learned team work and I learned mostly to become a leader.”
One-of-a-kind learning experience
Detroit International Academy for Young Women is the only PreK-12 all-girls public school in Michigan. The academy offers a college preparatory curriculum that allows students to excel academically with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, mathematics and leadership development.
Principal Hibbler said her mission is to equip each young woman with the skills needed to become positive, competitive, articulate, and competent leaders in their school, communities and the ever-changing global society.
The academy first opened in 2005 for 9th and 10th grade only after Hibbler and other governing board members petitioned in Lansing for a same-gender public school. Each subsequent year, the school added a grade. Due to its popularity as an all-girls academy, the school expanded to sixth grade in 2009 then added K-5 in 2010. Prekindergarten was added in 2013, now offering all grade levels.
So why did Hibbler and the schools’ founders petition for an all-girls school?
“Usually, that’s a privilege for the affluent,” Hibbler says. “If you can afford it, you can always go to same-gender schools. For example, if your income is high enough, you would be able to afford a tuition that may be $14,000 annually to go to other all-girls schools in the region.”
“We give the same opportunities to those who may not be as fortunate to pay that steep tuition,” Hibbler adds. “And we believe that everyone should have a choice regardless of your income.”
DIA offers a strong academic focus on science and math because these are the areas where, unfortunately, “girls run from, and they get hung up on a stereotype that math is difficult or that science is difficult,” says Hibbler. “We’re trying to make sure girls have more positive experiences with science and math so that they will explore those careers in engineering and other STEM-related careers.”
Exploring other cultures
Aside from a robust academic focus, students are also strongly encouraged to explore other cultures to expand their views on life.
Alexis Banks, a ninth-grader, transitioned to DIA two years ago from a charter school. One of the things she likes most about DIA is learning about people who have interests that are different from her own.
“You’re able to see and get others’ perspectives on different things and see how they live,” Banks says. “You have people who like this type of music, and that type of music, and different types of food. So you learn things that you never knew about, or even that you ever thought about.”
A very active student at DIA, Banks takes advantage of the school’s many offerings including A.P. Courses; Cross Country; Communications and Broadcasting as she delivers the daily announcements; JROTC; Student Council and more.
And like Aziz, she also enjoys the all-girls setting.
“A lot of girls who go to (co-ed) schools may get distracted by boys, but when you’re at an all-girls school, you have your sisters cheering you on to get better grades,” Banks says. “Everybody helps everybody. Teachers make you feel like you’re always welcome to come into the classroom and talk about anything. I just love it here.”
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Programs, Robotics Programs, Lego League, You Be the Chemist, Science Night, JROTC, Accelerated Reading/Math, Carnegie Math, Tutoring, Art, Basketball, Volleyball, Softball, Golf, Swim, Cheerleading, Cross Country, WorldLit Book Club, Women of Tomorrow Mentoring Organization, Anita’s Aspiring Attorneys, 4H Club, Chess Club, Computer Lab, Creative Writing, Debate, InsideOut Literary Arts, Drama Club, Dance, Diverse Student Association, Foreign Language Classes, Future Teachers Program, Journalism, National Junior Honor Society, Student Council, Summer Enrichment Programs, Technology/IT, Parent Resource Center; take-home Netbooks for grades 8-12; and more.
Something you didn’t know…
DIA will soon open as a 12/7 Community School, one of 21 schools total across the district that will extend beyond the traditional school day to offer services such as job skills training, child/elder care, financial literacy, food distribution and even medical care to better serve the needs of families district-wide.
The launch of the Community Schools model falls under the district’s new five-year Strategic Plan to initiate bold new methods to better serve the needs of students and families. Entitled, “Neighborhood-Centered, Quality Schools,” the plan involves 12 major goals focused on three central themes: Starting earlier and working longer, working harder and working smarter, joining together and expecting more.
Additional initiatives, many of which have already been implemented, include Universal Pre-Kindergarten for eligible students, Arts/Music enrichment for all elementary-middle school students, Enhanced Safety Patrols, Parent University and Customer Service programs.
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