How One PENCIL Partnership Helps Girls at North Star Academy Shine with STEM

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Image: PENCIL.org

This post was originally written by Amelia Vogler, PENCIL’s Marketing and Communications Intern published at PENCIL.org


Madeline Albright. Lisa Leslie. Sonia Sotomayor. Amelia Earhart. Venus Williams. Sally Ride. Margaret Thatcher. Wangari Maathai. Marie Curie. Indira Gandhi. 

Although each woman is remembered and revered for very different reasons, one common thread binds them all: Those women were pioneers in their fields. As Women’s History Month comes to an end, their legacies endure. 

These women achieved what was deemed impossible. How can the next generation match and exceed their accomplishments? What about the next generation of heroines? 

There have been decades of gains for women’s rights, and the next generation of women leaders will achieve far more than their predecessors could have imagined. Yet the gap is not shut, especially in certain male-dominated industries. Young girls need current female leaders to show them paths to success despite challenges.

One thing is for certain: As our economy shifts to prioritize more specialized science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries and careers, we’ll need the next wave of heroines to have the training they need to excel in these challenging—and exciting—new positions. 

Girls continue to outperform boys in high school and college, earning higher GPAs and more degrees overall. Yet girls continue to struggle in STEM-related fields, which lead to fewer women at the top-level of STEM careers and an unbalanced, unequal pay gap. 

PENCIL Partners—many of them successful businesswomen—show our young girl students that women need to foster mentorships with the next generation and help close the divides in all fields of study and careers, especially in STEM. 

PENCIL Partner Leigh Pires of LP Consulting decided to get involved as a PENCIL Partner because she wanted to provide an outlet for girls to ask questions about life after middle school, transition to high school, and be successful in college once high school ends. 

As a PENCIL Partner, she works with nine eighth-grade girls at North Star Academy in Brooklyn, and one of the ways she’s helping them prepare for the future is by guiding them through the complex New York City high school application process, which involves a critical entrance exam that includes math. 

Unlike many other U.S. metropolitan areas where students often matriculate at schools zoned by their home address, New York City public school eighth-graders must apply to high schools, regardless of their home district. 

Unlike many other U.S. metropolitan areas where students often matriculate at schools zoned by their home address, New York City public school eighth-graders must apply to high schools, regardless of their home district. 

That can be a daunting task for approximately 77,000 students to navigate by themselves. But the nine girls in Pires’ Partnership received in-depth guidance to ease the process.

Kendra, another student in the Partnership, said that Pires went above and beyond to help the girls with the complicated and often confusing high school application process.

“Leigh helped us understand the whole process,” she said. “She gave us time, she gave us practice applications. She even called schools for us.”

Pires drew on her own experiences when approaching her work with the girls at North Star Academy: She said that she lacked mentoring from a trusted and successful adult in college and law school, and she understands how important it is to connect with a mentor. 

“I didn’t really have any mentors when I was going through school, so it was hard to see what opportunities I could have,” she said. “Throughout college and law school, I was exposed to people from other areas who’d had more guidance, and I learned a lot of tips from them that helped me navigate college, grad school and beyond.”

Though Pires’ career as a consultant is not necessarily a STEM-affiliated career, she does understand the critical need to improve STEM-related test scores and boost confidence among its test-takers, especially girls, which will carry on throughout high school, college and career life. Helping the North Star Academy girls pass their eighth-grade math test is one step that she can take now to help them in the future. 

“Improving the girls’ confidence in the STEM fields is very important as our country moves more towards a tech-based lifestyle,” she said. “It means a greater marketability in the job field, and it fosters development of the logical processing in the brain, which helps in all subjects in school.” 

Milania, one of North Star Academy’s eighth-graders who joined the Partnership, said that the specialized high school exam was difficult but Pires helped fill in the gaps. 

“There were some things that were going to be on the test that we didn’t know, but Leigh helped us learn those and helped us prepare for the test,” she said. 

But this special Partnership embodies much more than acing math tests and navigating the high school application process by selecting the top high school. It is a Partnership that has inspired young girls to plan for the future when they will become young women.

“It feels good to know that I’m helping these girls look forward, plan for the future, and see what they’re capable of, and that nothing determines what they can achieve but their own willingness to work for it,” Pires said. “I hope I can be a role model. If I can share what I’ve learned with these girls and give them a leg up as they continue through school, then I consider the partnership to be a success.” 

While the girls benefit from Pires’ mentorship, she said that the Partnership fulfills an aspect of her professional career too. 

“It feels good to have a direct impact on the educational process, and in the lives of such smart, interesting, and hard-working young women,” she said. 

Kendra and Milania both agreed that they consider Pires to be a role model. 

Milania said that a role model for her is a woman who has “brains, confidence, and knows what she wants in life.” 

“Leigh balances her job and helps out us young ladies, that takes a lot of time,” Milania said. “She has showed us a lot about how to be successful in and out of the classroom.” 

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