Teaching about Life beyond the Classroom

Curse Good Girl smallerAt Williston, education doesn’t end with the conclusion of the class day. Amanda Rappold, physics teacher and dorm head of French House, has initiated a study group to help better prepare the girls in her dorm for life after Williston. They are reading The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons, which addresses the challenge of being both successful and genuine, or, how to be a “real” girl and not just a “good” girl.

On her website, Rachel Simmons declares that “while the doors of opportunity are open to twenty-first-century American girls, many lack the confidence to walk through them.” Women earn less and are underrepresented in the upper levels of business. More girls than boys graduate from college, but, as Ms. Rappold describes it, “Once you get into the world where what you produce matters, achievement drops off.” This, according to the book, is the “curse of the good girl.”

amanda rappold
Amanda Rappold at Senior Dinner

The idea of a reading group came to her after she and her colleagues attended a workshop by Rachel Simmons at Smith College. They all were motivated to bring the message of empowerment back to campus. Melissa Brousseau, Caitlin Church, and Allison Marsland gave a Diversity Conference workshop entitled “Good Girls Finish Last,” while Ms. Rappold decided to start the book discussion in her dorm.

French House is a small dorm housing eight girls, most of whom are senior honor students. They have met once a month during study hall since January to discuss assigned chapters from the book. “The book is about how you interact with the world,” Ms. Rappold says, so it’s perfect for seniors who are about to leave Williston and go on to college and a career. She gives the example of a chapter on body language and how many girls expect their peers to “read their minds.” This becomes a problem in the workplace if a woman expects that hard work alone will earn her a raise or promotion, instead of negotiating directly.

“The dorm is the place where these conversations happen,” Ms. Rappold says, and she has found that reading about these issues makes them easier to talk about. Girls can discuss the book without revealing too much personally. For a physics teacher (she has taught at Williston since 1999), book discussions are new territory, but she has found that the discussion flows naturally with some direction from her. “The girls have said specifically that they are glad to be reading the book and they have learned from it,” she says.

Assistant Athletic Director Melissa Brousseau, a fellow dorm parent and previous dorm head of Memorial East, calls the book discussions “a great initiative.” In French House, “It’s not just rules, study hall and checking in. There are definitely life lessons and communication skills being developed beyond the classroom. Beyond dorm bonding, our girls can take these lessons and use them long after they graduate from Williston.”