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Getting Their Fair Share

Getting Their Fair ShareWhile they welcome kids of both genders, many of the nation's coed youth programs are designed for boys, not girls, reports a study by a Tufts expert.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.24.02] Over a decade ago, the Boys Club of America changed its name and charter -- officially opening its doors to girls for the first time. The move was part of a trend to expand coed youth programs nationwide. While the number of programs available to both boys and girls improved as a result, a study by Tufts' Molly Mead shows the quality of the programming for girls did not.

"The major conclusion I drew was disturbing: many coed programs failed to meet their own stated primary goal: to serve girls as effectively as boys," Mead wrote in her study.

Allowing girls to enroll isn't the only step necessary to create an effective coed program, Mead found.

"[According to Mead] years ago, when most youth club programming was single-sex, the vast majority were designed for boys," reported the Denver Post. "When they opened enrollment to girls, the programming hardly changed at all."

In many cases, Mead found that the "program staff failed to examine program activities to ask whether girls and boys might bring different skills and interests to their participation in those activities," she wrote in her study. "Too often the result was a mismatch between the program's design and the girls' interest and concerns -- a mismatch that caused girls to be marginalized, their needs unmet, and their potential to be unrealized."

What was supposed to improve opportunities for girls, turned out to reduce them. "Take basketball, a staple of youth clubs," reported the Post. "Because of their social environment, most boys enter the program with skills way ahead of the girls, Mead said. Girls get frustrated playing with the boys are stigmatized and ridiculed, and often drop of before the develop the competence necessary to compete."

By failing to redesign the programs for a coed environment, Mead says many girls get left behind.

"Mead talked about her research at events sponsored by the Women's Foundation of Colorado this week," reported the newspaper. "Her message was clear: If you really want to be fair, you can't just take the tired old male-dominated culture, add girls, and stir."

Instead, the director of Tufts' University College of Citizenship and Public Service suggested that youth programs re-examine their approach to ensure the individual needs and interests of girls, as well as boys, are addressed.

"It shouldn't just be up to women to learn to be socialized to the male model," she said in the Post's article. "It needs to be a two-way street."

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