Building a STEM School for Girls

Building a STEM School for Girls

WHO SHE IS
Dr. Robyn Wiens, Principal of Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls

WHERE SHE IS
St. Louis

SUCCESS STORY
Opening Missouri’s first single-gender public school

WORK SCHEDULE
6 a.m. to 5:20 pm in the building, at home again from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday + a 3 to 5 hour chunk on Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

KIDS
June (4) & Eve (2)

GUILTY PLEASURE
Cookies

RECENT SMART READ
Cage-busting Leadership by Frederick M. Hess

FAVORITE WEEKNIGHT DINNER
Sushi take-out

FAVORITE MAGAZINES:
The Athleta Catalog & People.com

FAVORITE TV SHOW
American Ninja Warrior & How Things Are Made

GO-TO TECH
App: Todoist
Gadget: My wireless clicker for presentations
Website: Google calendar

BEST TIME-MANAGEMENT TIP
Divide the labor at home based on passion and talent. (Example: I *hate* cooking and my husband is a great cook, so he does all the cooking. On the other hand, I don’t mind doing laundry and sweeping up the floor. So I take on more of the cleaning responsibilities.)

BETTER WAY TO SAY WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
Depends on the day. Sometimes it’s, “What We Signed Up For,” and other days it’s, “What Brings Us the Most Joy Right Now.”

Hawthorn Leadership School on Maybrooks

1. Congratulations on opening the first STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school for GIRLS ONLY in Missouri. Tell us about the curriculum and girls attending the school.

The idea for Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls originated with my supervisor and our founder, Mary Stillman. She knew that women, especially women of color, were significantly underrepresented in the STEM fields. Creating a local source of young women prepared for STEM careers was very important to her given the recent investments in the tech industry in St. Louis.

The girls are all city residents and represent more than 15 different zip codes. They are coming to us from all types of schools — private, faith-based private, traditional public, and charter public schools. Our free and reduced lunch rate is 75%.

All of our girls will take a computer programming course next year — and there will eventually be a required engineering course for all middle schoolers. This year we will have robotics and coding after school, and all girls will take an “Intro to Engineering” course. Four times a year we’ll have “Drop Everything and Build” days where the entire school will engage in some type of engineering design challenge!

2. You have two daughters and now manage a team of 18. How’s it going?

It has been challenging but I am incredibly thankful for our support system. We moved back to St. Louis from Seattle in 2013 to be closer to our parents — both sets are still here in St. Louis and we really needed more help. My husband is an attorney who specializes in education law.

Our younger daughter spends two days a week at my mother in law’s house and three days at an early childhood center 5 minutes from our house. Our older daughter goes to the same early childhood center five days a week. My husband does drop off and I do pick up. It also helps that my supervisor is also a mom and while her children are already in college, she is great at making sure I’m not falling apart!

3. I knew you, your sisters and brother in high school and then we worked together briefly. How did your family influence your career?

I think the biggest thing I learned from my family is the power of hard work and that success never comes easily. I think all of us have a relentless commitment to doing our best in any endeavor we’ve selected. Even more so, I think my parents have always lived a life of helping others. Ever since I was a little girl, I remember them sending clothes or other basic items to the Philippines (where they’re from). They are already in their 70’s and still plan regular trips back to the Philippines to run their own medical missions in remote villages with no healthcare.

4. I heard an NPR piece the other day about how few people are choosing teaching as a career. What pitch would you make to someone who might be looking

Teaching can be one of the most fulfilling professions. The bad days can be *so* hard — but the good days are *so* good that you can’t imagine having any other job in this lifetime. I think there’s another piece — you have to be in it for the kids and for the precious opportunity you have to shape their futures.

You have to believe all children can learn and know that for some students, you may be the only one who has told them they are valuable and worthy of a high quality education. We’re educating real human beings who are going to grow up and become citizens in our community, not little robots. Everyone can name their favorite (or at times, most unfavorite) teacher, regardless of how long they’ve been out of school. With that in mind, you have to be willing to embrace the urgency of the work — it’s just as much about the relationships being built as it is about mastering the content.