Siobhan Davenport is the President & CEO of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (CSGW). CSGW works in conjunction with schools to close education and achievement gaps for teen girls to feel empowered through a whole-child, whole-community curriculum. In her previous role as Crittenton’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, she built collaborations between schools, nonprofits, and corporations to better meet Crittenton girls’ challenges and launched the Declare Equity for Girls: It’s Time campaign. Siobhan is an inspiration– the daughter of teen parents who has defied every statistic and now leads a nonprofit empowering younger versions of herself. Additionally, Siobhan serves as a commissioner for the Maryland Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism and sits on the Advisory Council for Ascend at the Aspen Institute. Siobhan holds a master’s degree in journalism from American University.
Daniel: One critic of education and it's usually a fair one is that it was created for a certain kid that existed a long time ago. We've all heard this. The factory model, blah, blah, blah. School has not changed. It's still looks the same. That's what a critics say. Well, here's the thing. Today's guest is a leader of an organization that has existed for 132 years in the US and her organization has had to pivot and change and evolve and iterate multiple times over the years. It used to be long time ago, focused on a singular place. Now it's evolved to supporting specifically female students in schools. I'm really pleased to be bringing this conversation to you today. I can't wait to hear what you think about it. Hey, it's Danny and welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education.
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Daniel: All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn more at Organized Binder. Ruckus Makers. Today, I am joined by Siobhan Davenport, a mother author, and president and CEO of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington. A 132 year old non-profit that empowers 6th to 12th grade girls to overcome obstacles and reach their full potential. Siobhan's personal story combined with nearly 20 years of experience in youth development, makes her an expert in holistic programs that drive youth social, emotional and academic success. Siobhan Davenport welcome to the show.
Siobhan: Thank you for having me appreciate the opportunity.
Daniel: I don't know that I've talked to anybody who is at the helm of a hundred year old plus organization, and I'd love to start there and just check in what that is.
Siobhan: Well it's interesting being at the helm of this organization, because it started over, as you mentioned, 133 years ago as a home for teen and young unwed mothers. What was found is that a lot of these women have been sex trafficked. The founder who was a philanthropist, Charles Christensen partnered with a woman who was ahead of her time, Dr. Waller Barrett, who founded the first home in Washington, DC. They ended up founding several homes throughout the country where they were essentially not just rescuing these women and young girls, but also providing them with job training skills, parenting skills so when they left the home they could take care of their children. We didn't survive that long without evolving and understanding what young women and young girls need. We moved from being, a place-based nonprofit to a school-based nonprofit. We look at now serving the entire girl, ensuring that her emotional intellectual, physical wellbeing is certainly cared for.
Daniel: You're probably known for saying, I took notes down from our last conversation. You said, "we meet girls where they are, but don't let them stay there." What's the significance of that idea to you?
Siobhan: What our program leaders who are trained in social, emotional learning practices, trauma informed care, and positive youth development. They create small group experiences of 12 to18 young ladies, and it's a safe space. Our teen girls know that they will not be judged by the circumstances that they're facing, by what is happening in their home, in schools, in relationships, et cetera. Once young young people understand that they're not judged, that they're supported, what ends up happening is a sacred sister circle hood evolves from this meetings. Our young ladies meet weekly with their program leader throughout the school year. I had one of our alum share with me that she didn't necessarily like everyone in her group, but she loved each and every one of the teen girls that were in her group and stays in contact with them to this day. She's graduated from high school 10 years ago.
Daniel: I love the alliteration to the sacred circle sisterhood, also a tongue twister, but it's a really a beautiful image that you put into our minds. With that you talked about safety and the importance of not judging. I'm curious if there's something organizationally you do. I don't know the term that you might use, facilitators or coaches or the people that serve on these girls, but how do you remove that? I see again in the way of so much and sometimes it might be our unconscious biases that are getting in there. I'd love for you to riff on safety and suspending judgment.
Siobhan: Absolutely. How we do that. It's very intentional. It really is. I think you're right. We're living in a society now where we're so fragmented. Everyone is in their silos and we're yelling at each other, not talking to one another. Our program leaders spend about six to eight weeks in the beginning of the school year, really building those circles of trust, the sacred sisterhood circle, as I had mentioned earlier. It's all about the teens themselves describing, "What do you want out of this experience? What would make you want to share? How do you want to feel when you walk in these doors?" The teens really are instrumental and leading the way in setting the rules on what and how the group will operate and how they will interact with one another. It's very, very intentional.
Siobhan: What ends up happening is your quieter girls who may not have said anything for most of the school year, who suddenly become your most outspoken girls. By the end of the school year, we hold a spring of that called The High Tea. I remember one young lady who was at my table. She was a sophomore in high school and she had attended an event that we held called The Leadership Summit, where we bring girls together for a weekend of intensive, but fun because these are teen girls. We have to make everything fun as well, intensive leadership training, but also making it just a wonderful weekend experience for them. She was shy. I was shaking hands saying, "hello." She wouldn't make eye contact but by the end of that weekend, when I pinned her for her graduation, from the leadership academy, she was just so confident, smiling.
Siobhan: A few days later at our High Tea Events, she's at my table. We're having great conversations about what high school is like for her. I shared that my own daughter was about to enter high school, how nervous she was. She said, "When she comes, don't worry about it. I will be talking with her." They had a beautiful conversation where she answered all of my daughter's questions and told her, "don't worry about high school. You got this, you've been preparing all your life for high school." It was just nice to see how the support that our young ladies receive from us. The nonjudgmental support will help them blossom with confidence and really live and speak their truth.
Daniel: Yeah, that's great. To unpack for the Ruckus Maker, listening, you mentioned how creating the safe space and suspending judgment is an intentional move on your organization's part. That question was intentional too, because I want listeners to then ask their staff and their staff to ask students, "What does it take for you to feel comfortable and safe here?" and collect that? And then don't just collect it, but act on it too because that is a key to building a world-class culture. This stuff is all out there, but what sets top performers apart from the other folks is that they actually do it. Make sure you take action. Speaking of taking action. I know that, the girls lead quite a bit of what happens within your organization. I'd just love to hear more about how have their leadership skills grown and whether those opportunities that they do?
Siobhan: I love how you refer to your listeners as Ruckus Makers, because I think of our girls that way. We have a wonderful group of advocates and we are intentional about sharing with our young ladies and empowering them to not only that their voice matters, but to use their voices and they advocate for themselves and their communities, et cetera. We also have advocates who have chosen police reform as their topic. What we are doing with our young ladies is training them on what advocacy is all about, but then giving them the tools in which to utilize their advocacy skills. Of course being the wonderful generation that they are, they said, "Well, what about a social media campaign? We want to do that." The girls will step out in leadership and leading us adults in ways that they know they can connect with one another.
Siobhan: I will share with you, the pandemic has impacted our young ladies quite seriously. The young ladies that we serve face many challenges, but the pandemic has exponentially grown those challenges. We had a group of our high school students who told their program leader they wanted to participate in a food drive that was going to be held at their school over the weekend. They had already arranged with one another, how they were going to get there and organizing themselves and they were just informing the program leader that this is what they would be doing. So she said, "Well, what, I'm not going to leave you on your own. I'm coming, I'm going to help." So the young lady spent a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, loading food boxes into the cars of those in need. At the end of the food drive, each young lady took home a box of food because they needed it as well. I was just so proud to see them step up in leadership and say, "We're not, we don't want to be bystanders. We're not victims in our own lives. There's something that we can do to make a difference for other people in our community." Those are the moments where I'm just so proud that our young ladies step up in leadership.
Daniel: bsolutely. I think you're illustrating to the importance again, instead of being passive, being active and being a part of the solution. Thank you for that. Siobhan so you mentioned the pandemic has been hard for many of your girls, and I'd love to hear more about the barriers that some of the girls face. It's important to me because as a Ruckus Maker listing most likely as a principal, assistant principal, although they might hold another role somewhere within a school or a district. Sometimes people just don't understand really, truly what's going on with students. It will be a generalization, but at least in some respects it will uncover some of the struggles that our students go through. What are some of those barriers that your girls face?
Siobhan: Some of the barriers that our teen girls or have faced since the pandemic is in increased home care. What I mean by that is their younger siblings in the household, cousins, et cetera. Our young ladies are taking the lead and helping, uh, younger children, either access, distance learning, get on their computers or taking care of them while their parents are considered frontline essential workers. And, and that's taken away from their ability to study. We have seen, uh, in the report cards that we collect, there has been a drop for most, not all, but most of our girls have had a drop in their grade point average for those reasons, uh, for our high school students, we're seeing them having an increased role in providing financially for their families and helping the family to stabilize. So they're taking on extra jobs, extra hours at jobs.
Siobhan: Of course this impedes their ability just completely on their education. We did a needs assessment of our young ladies, and we talked about mental health, mental wellbeing, and they have identified on their own. We had 53% of our young ladies tell us that they have increased anxiety since the pandemic, a majority of our young ladies are sharing their, their concerns over an uncertain future. These are weighing so heavily on our young people. I hate to use the cliche, but it's just so appropriate. It takes a village, our schools can't do it all alone. We have great leadership if our principals and vice principals and teachers at schools, but they can't be expected to address all of the needs of our young girls. We need to be in partnership, which we are with our, with our schools and other nonprofits as well. We can all just circle the bandwagons and help provide the resources and support that our students need. It's important for our school leadership to understand the increased burden that our young girls are facing since the pandemic.
Daniel: I think that's a good place to pause just for a moment and we'll get a message in from our sponsors. When we get back, we'd love to hear about how it's important, not to forget about the work that needs to be done at home. Learn how to successfully drive school change and help your diverse stakeholders, establish priorities and improve practice in leading change. A certificate in school management and leadership course from Harvard topics include adaptive leadership, culture, equity, and more. Leading change runs June 16th to July 14th, 2021. Apply by June 4th, enroll by June 10th and get started at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard.
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Daniel: We're back with Siobhan Davenport, the mother author, and president CEO of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington. We were just talking about a bit of how we support our students at school and our focuse is rightly there, but we can't forget about our kids at home. If I remember correctly in my notes here you had a personal story of how your daughter needed some support too. If you don't mind sharing that, we'd love to hear it.
Siobhan: I would love to share it because I think sometimes as parents we are so busy with so many responsibilities that, uh, we make assumptions about our own children. My daughter, who's always been a very engaged student and has always loved being a part of a school community. When our schools closed, uh, last March of 2020, and all students had to be virtual, she was fine. I mean, she ended up the school year and in a positive note. Having lack of activity and connectivity during the summer, no camps, internships, she's a high school student and not having access to her friends, she really disengaged. It was a surprise to me when I was getting notes from her school, because they were concerned about her as well, that this wasn't the child that we recognize. Are you seeing these signs at home? I am working with teen girls six through 12th grade and helping them stay engaged, even in my own home, I found that I needed to really put focus and help my daughter navigate this distance learning, which was quite difficult for her and many other students.
Daniel: I appreciate you sharing that personal story. I know the Ruckus Maker listening is very focused on driving results for their kids at school and sometimes that takes away from home. A gentle reminder and nudge that your family needs you and to do your best.I'll leave it at that. If the Ruckus Maker listening would like to support your organization, I think you have some fundraisers coming up in the fall. Could you tell us a bit about that?
Siobhan: Absolutely. We have our largest fundraiser in the fall where we are invite those who don't know Crittenton. It's a wonderful way to get to know us. We recognize leaders in our community that are Ruckus Makers and making a difference in the lives of teen girls. In addition to that, we invite our alumni, as well as current students who actually get to introduce these powerful leaders, mostly women, some men that get it as well. They get to build a personal relationship that turns into really a strong mentor, mentee opportunity for our alumni, as well as our current students. It's just a fun jazz evening. We have a fabulous jazz artist who's on our board, Mr. Aaron Meyers and he leads that night. Not only do you get to hear from current students and past students, you get to learn about some of the amazing work that leaders are doing in the community all while listening to wonderful jazz. It's just a great celebratory evening. You can learn more about it, it's on our website, www.christensonservices.org. We would love to have as many Ruckus Makers in the audience as we can.
Daniel: We'll link that up in the show notes so people can click on that and then head over to your site. If you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for just a day, what would your message read?
Siobhan: I could add a marquee and I'm going to add some fireworks to that marquee. and i t would be Let Teens Lead. I think sometimes as adults, we have wonderful experience in our lives and we get into a point and I guess I should talk about myself. We get to a point where we say, do this, do that, do the other. We forget that teens are the experts in their own lives. They come with so much experience and they know what they need, and we can be a support to them and getting the services that they need.
Daniel: I love that line, that teens are experts in their own lives. I really, really liked that that's resonating with me. You're building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?
Siobhan: Uh, I love this question I really do. I would imagine, uh, anyone who is serving children in the ways that we do has this dream school in mind. The top three things of my dream school would be every adult would have to be trained in social, emotional learning practices and trauma informed care so they can see the whole child and understand if a child is falling asleep in class. It's not to punish that behavior, but to ask what's happening in that child's home, that they are not able to stay up in class. So that would be number one. Number two is really having smaller class sizes and teachers, teaching educators, how to be group facilitators and how to do real group building skills. Students have a say in how the classroom will be respected, how everyone in that classroom will be respected and that they have a stake in their own education. The last practice I would recommend is mental wellness practices and having green space at schools and breaks in the day that children can get out for 10 minutes and be in nature, which has been proven to be a real mood booster. So, that would be my dream school.
Daniel: Thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Siobhan: Would love for all of the Ruckus Makers to remember, let teens lead and be a partner in their lives and to remember that the teens are the experts in their own lives. We as adults are just here to provide the support that they need.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast from Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter at @alienearbud. If the Better Leaders Better Schools, Podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alienearbud and using the #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to yo next time until then class dismissed.
- Understanding barriers that girls face and teaching action advocacy.
- Creating safe space and suspending judgment as an intentional move as an organization.
- The key to building world class culture with one question.
- Reflection for leaders to help navigate and engage at school and at home.
- Serve the whole child by suspending judgment with specific staff training.
- Evolution of a sacred sister circle-hood. “Meet girls where they are, but don’t let them stay there.”
“Let Teens Lead. As adults, we have wonderful experiences in our lives and we get to a point where we say, ‘Do this, do that, do the other.’ We forget that teens are the experts in their own lives. They come with so much experience and they know what they need, and we can be a support to them and get the services that they need.”
– Siobhan Davenport
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