Shining a Light on Women’s History Month

While sexism has prevailed through misogynistic portrayal, Women’s History Month has served as a shield against negative connotations, honoring monumental female figures that embody leadership characteristics throughout daily life. Decades of gender equality reforms continuously pave a pathway of opportunity for the future of womanhood and continue to do so in modern times.

WHS typically does not explicitly celebrate such titles, despite women accounting for half of the education system through a variety of positions. Teachers serve as leaders who set examples for the progress and discipline of future generations, encouraging positive development in adolescence. Each WHS department consists of dedicated women, committing to extracurriculars, interventions and students in order to encourage passion and incentive. Each has personal inspiration figures that impacted the role they’ve played in today’s high school environment. Even if not directly advocating for gender equality each day, the contribution within the education field consistently withstands classically male dominant institutions.

Kerry McMenimen, WHS English teacher known as Ms. Mac, was surrounded by educators at an early age. She is responsible for introducing the AP Language and Composition course to WHS and has continued to teach her students with passion, even through the pandemic. As a child, she developed a guiding philosophy from Curious George: people are always able to make mistakes and learn from them. Her teenage years saw powerful women more frequently in the media and many classic rock bands and artists—Nirvana, Madonna and Courtney Love—began to influence her perspective of the world. Throughout her career, the media has criticized Madonna for her controversial persona and performances. Despite critics, she became a large influence to young girls, Mac included. Ms. Mac taught these girls to always be honest, to keep pushing and to never settle for second best.

Though an abundance of positive influences for young women have been established over the years, concern for the growing female generation has only risen.

“If you are an educator and you don’t have concerns, that’s an issue,” Mac said. “Social media has more of an effect on girls than most people understand. As someone who spent her entire life dealing with weight issues and body image issues, I don’t know if I would have been able to handle social media.”

Women in particular learn at a young age to become their own worst enemies. If people push themselves down, that is the only direction they will go, no matter how many people have built them up. Many teachers, Mac included, advocate for fair student treatment. However, unless school communities work to improve their tolerance, this is not enough. Female students, along with several other groups of students, are not treated as equals to their fellow classmates.

Rachel Jackson, WHS Registered Nurse and first generation nurse in her family, has played a crucial role in the wellbeing of her students. One of Jackson’s greatest accomplishments is her

schedule planning for students with Cystic Fibrosis in the same school. Due to lack of information on the topic, she pioneered her own plans to help them safely attend school and later published works on the topic along with speaking at the National Cystic Fibrosis meeting. Influenced by Dorathea Dix—a prominent woman in the advocacy of mentally ill patients in the 19th century—Jackson admires Dix for her understanding of mental health in a less accepting era. During her adolescence, Jackson noticed the struggle for women in the higher levels of the medical field and now recognizes the difficulty of being a woman in politics. She highlights the point that there will always be hurdles for women in certain career paths and life in general but that overcoming these hurdles is crucial.

“Adolescence as a young woman is difficult and I think that women in general have always been strong and prominent figures in society, but now having a female vice president and females being more on the forefront, people are recognizing this,” Jackson said.

The overall experience of growing up as a woman is tough, however, gender bias is something that has not been a large concern at WHS. Following a broad bloodline of educators, WHS Assistant Principal Lee Tobey had not sought out aspirations within the education field growing up. Once obtaining a teaching certificate as a backup career turned into 19 years of dedication to WHS, following her mother and great grandfather. To this day, one of the most significant progressions throughout WPS stands to be the prominence of female leadership throughout each grade level and beyond the academic environment, the role of assistant principal being a shining example for Tobey. Encouragement towards women in leadership has become a key component to success within Walpole Public Schools, allowing more female educators to take on more influential roles.

“Of course there are barriers when it comes to women being unable to get certain jobs that men can,” Tobey said. “But, no job is really off the table. Growing up, I understood that girls can do whatever boys can do, and equity and equality have become a great push [since then].”

Throughout her teaching career, WHS English teacher Bailey Tighe has provided her students with the space to discover who they want to be and what they need to be for themselves. Tighe’s small hometown believed that being smart meant that one would grow up to be rich and successful. She later developed an understanding that intelligent individuals have access to many different opportunities and careers without the need for riches and fame. Growing up, Tighe did not have an interest in teaching. She was assured early on by her mother, also an educator, that her future did not need to be decided by age 17 and has since shared this with her classes. This ideal has helped make her classroom a judgment free space, one where kids are allowed to struggle and not feel as though it determines their worth.

“Failure doesn’t define you as a person,” Tighe said. “I was a large perfectionist growing up. I thought that if I was good at everything, people would like me. No one would have a reason not to. You can fail and it doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of love.”

Women at WHS are significant in the development of how girls see themselves and inspire us to become better people. The change in women being seen openly in high positions and prominent members of society provide many young women with hope for their own futures.

At school and online, the uprising in powerful women role models is encouraging new generations to follow in their footsteps. Women’s History Month is a time to thank and appreciate the women in our lives for being of great influence to us and continuously breaking through the barriers society sets.

Embracing the role of teaching demonstrates characteristics of leadership, success, authority, and diligence. The efforts of women in Walpole have brought comfort, stability, inclusivity and enjoyment to an often high-stakes, high-pressure environment, and these women fulfill the needs of every student they encounter.

Thank you to all the women at Walpole High School for setting strong examples for every member of the community, and for teaching valuable lessons in and out of the classroom to generations of students past, present, and future.