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"You've Got It Girl. Use It."

Story and Photos by Danya Steele


The Thea Bowman Middle School is nowhere near average. Omniscient you, to receive the dual observation from the journalist who paid a visit to the school, and the student who experienced it. Simply put: in this piece, you'll get the best of both worlds.

Located on 132nd street between 7th and 8th Avenues, the Thea Bowman Middle School is the all-girls addition to St. Aloysius, a co-educational catholic elementary school. Dr. Laurel D. Senger, principal of the school for 9 years and current president for almost three, is the solidifier: maintaining a consistent moral ground, articulating the vision of the school, as well as trying to secure a long term future for both students and their school facility through fundraising. The school of 65 is named after the late Thea Bowman, Franciscan sister of Perpetual Adoration, honored as the school's namesake for her lifelong dedication to educating young African American girls.

Coming to St. Aloysius at little over a decade ago in 1990, Dr. Senger was handed a deteriorating school. The Archdiocese offered an ultimatum; the school would either be successfully restructured, or terminated completely. With 60-65% of the area's children deemed statistically un-destined to graduate from high school, Dr. Senger was faced with a heavy responsibility as principal. Engaged in such of a desperate time, there seemed to be no other option BUT to think radically -- even daring to dream. Dr. Senger took the job.

St. Aloysius contained a co-educational middle school in 1990. Dr. Senger came to find that to the junior high students, "stimulation" came from passing time in the hallways, as gossip was studied more than global history. Many of the kids were unenlightened by their main sources of information -- negative media and television, and in many cases, their home lives failed to help. Dr. Senger branched off the junior high schools into single-sexed programs. The goal was for students to take three years of their lives apart to think of themselves and their own capabilities void of external distraction. Although initial financial obstacles stood in the way of the creation for an additional school building for Thea Bowman, needs were soon met. In 1995, with just enough funding and resource to create another sector to the school, The Thea Bowman Program was founded.

Girls are analysts," says Dr. Senger. By entering the school, the puerile side of male-female analysis that can distract young females is left behind. By freezing up the very essence of who she is, the Thea Bowman student begins to realize in an all-girls environment that there can be a sisterhood between young females, excluding the need for petty competition. Young people are constantly bombarded with negativity; the program has been designed to allow them to step back and sort their fast-paced world out for themselves with the aid of a highly concerned staff.

"It's about taking who's there and inspiring them", says Dr. Senger. Opting to take the mixture of talent and potential from a wide variety of adolescents, Dr. Senger surprisingly avoids skimming the surface of urban society for an elite group of youth. With the belief that the naturally "elite" group of children will inevitably be noticed and helped along the way, Laurel focuses on a more inclusive approach to education by aiding each child to obtain their individualized maximum potential-- both "elite" and "un-destined" alike.

Visitors are often surprised with Thea Bowman as a catholic school environment. Constant remarks of "Wow, the kids here are so happy" are steadily overheard while the girls are noted for being "so poised and charming." This sort of behavior tends to come quite naturally in the Bowman environment. Since full school days last from 8:05am to 5:15pm, Thea Bowman students will find themselves remaining in school while most of their peers have already been dismissed. This detail is commonly disregarded among the students however, largely due to the Bowman technique of proposing learning as something enjoyably challenging as opposed to useless and uninteresting.

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