As the Inland Empire celebrates Women’s History month, it is important to not only reflect on monumental contributions of women in history, it is equally as important to recognize the bold and innovative women of today who are dedicated to laying a foundation for the future success of young women and girls who will lead this region and the nation into the future.
Local school districts have bridged many gaps regarding the low graduation rates in the African American community, and the work continues. One nonprofit has dedicated its efforts to help improve performance by African American students—in this instance, the focus is specifically with girls.
Shirley Coates has excelled throughout her life partly due to her intellect—she skipped two grades and graduated high school at age 16— and partly by her willingness to say “yes” to opportunities that advanced her first career in telecommunications and enabled her to subsequently launch a second, equally as successful career in real estate.
In recent years, Coates merged her professional leadership abilities with her passion to uplift others and created the Society of Extraordinary Women (SOEW), dedicated to empowering girls and women to discover their extraordinary selves through mentoring and education for a lifetime. Each previous class mentors the new class with the goal of staying in contact with each other throughout college and career.
A UCLA graduate, Coates was informed through an article she read that 30 to 40 percent of African American students were not graduating from high school in the Inland Empire. After conducting further research, she identified issues that influence a girl’s decision to drop out of school: low self-esteem, peer pressure, lack of parental support, body image and feelings of not being good enough.
Coates always had the desire to help girls and women. She mentors women in business and has always assisted people in general. She was fortunate to have grown up with a great support system of encouraging parents and excellent teachers. Coates believes that “ordinary people do extraordinary things.”
Coates initiated a meeting right in her living room aimed at creating curriculum to address the needs of the young African American women. The attendees who gathered with her were passionate school principals, business professionals, and community leaders. They worked together and established the nonprofit—the Society of Extraordinary Women—to help remove barriers that prevent girls from learning.
Among the women who embraced Coates’ vision was Leslie N. Fountain. A business-minded professional with an MBA, Fountain has been a tremendous asset in.
SOEW recently hosted a series of Saturday classes, the Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls, at the University of California, Riverside. Fountain conducted the organization’s ten-week curriculum for girls that included Story Map Lab, Data Gathering, GIS Day, and Innovation Design. As a result, she is meeting her goal of introducing young ladies to GIS. One of Fountain’s ideal projects for GIS is to develop an African American history story map.
The workshop was also designed to assist with growth in an array of other areas including positive self-esteem, constructive relationships, presentation skills, social and cyber etiquette, financial literacy and preparation for college
The program starts with middle-school-aged students, to lay a foundation for success in academics and their personal lives as well. The students are recruited through flyers, churches, soew.org, and word of mouth.
During the program, to ensure readiness for college, assessments are given to explore subjects in which each of the girls are most likely to succeed. Their parents are involved as a part of the team along with the professionals and students, to come up with the best ways to help their child. This includes working through how subjects are taught via common core.
Every child learns differently—one may raise her hand and another may never look up, but both need to be included to know that they matter. Encouraging a student to participate may change the mindset of the child regarding her capability.
When the girls are speaking low, Coates empowers them by reminding them to “speak up,” letting them know what they have to say is important. Another way she empowers them is when they mention they are not good at something, she asks, “Who told you that?” and “You can learn to get better.”
One of the modules taught during the Ignite Leadership Academy is Geographic Information System (GIS). Coates has an interest in GIS due to its widespread usage and how it impacts almost every aspect of our lives. She is excited to expose the girls to GIS in relation to opportunities in STEM fields. She mentioned that the group’s consultation with the Mapping Black California initiative—a collaborative effort between Esri, Black Voice News and the Inland Leadership Alliance—is a wonderful enhancement to the program.
Coates plans to maintain and expand the Society of Extraordinary Women by taking it national.
During Women’s History Month, Voice Media Ventures salutes women like Coates and Fountain, among others, who hold Masters and PhDs in education and are truly passionate and dedicated to helping others.