SC School Divides Girls and Boys to Give Them Different Leadership Day Experiences

A South Carolina elementary school is under fire for providing a drastically different leadership “summit” for boy students, and community-building “retreat” for girl students.

According to South Carolina newspaper The State, students at Pickens Elementary School in Pickens, South Carolina (which is about three hours southwest of Charlotte, NC) were divided by gender to attend two different “character development events” that took place on the same day at the school. Why boys and girls required two entirely different sessions to develop their characters, especially when the kids are only in third through fifth grade, is beyond us.

In photos on the elementary school’s Facebook page, boys are dressed in crisp button-downs, ties and freshly pressed chinos. They’re in what appears to be a decorated classroom, listening to uniformed law enforcement officers and businessmen in suits talk about their careers. Each boy has a custom folder, pen, and laminated clip-on nametag bearing the school’s IGNITE Boys’ Summit insignia.

Meanwhile, the SHINE Girls’ Retreat took place in what looks like the school’s gymnasium. Girls wore standard-issue red T-shirts with the Pickens school logo decorated with sticker nametags on the chest. The girls were given colorful plastic bead necklaces, as well as the lucky opportunity to color in a printed drawing of a woman to correspond with their career interests. They could also color in and tape a tie onto their woman, if they felt so inclined.

The State reports that Pickens Elementary School originally posted this statement on Facebook: “Male role models from the community spoke with the boys about leadership and the importance of character. The Pickens Varsity cheer team spoke with the girls about how to work together to help everyone shine.”

Later, The State says, Pickens officials changed the post to say that community officials and student athletes talked to both boys and girls. The now-deleted post garnered comments such as: “School District of Pickens County, you can edit the text as much as you want, but as long as you keep the photos, people are going to still know that you are operating in a sexist vacuum from yesteryear,” from one user, according to The State.

Another user wrote, “Unless there is another ‘summit’ and ‘retreat’ planned immediately to provide clear balance, this is ultimately a fail. I’m sure there were positive moments across the board, but, wow! Back up and look at this. The girls deserve more. And boys can certainly be taught to ‘shine’ as well! (Whatever THAT means.)”

The pictures show a clear and striking difference between the boys’ program, and the girls’.

John Eby, a spokesperson for the Pickens County school district wrote a statement to a McClatchy news group stating the school will “reflect on the concerns that members of our community have expressed about the format of this event to ensure that future events at all schools send a message of inclusion and equality. It was not the school or district’s intent to send a message that students must display different character traits or pursue different career goals based on their gender, but it is clear that this is the message that was sent as a result of some of the differences in the programs, and we apologize.”

According to Eby, school officials decided on the boys’ dress code, while girls were given a survey that asked their clothing preferences. The girls chose to dress casually, he said.

While there’s nothing wrong with leading in a T-shirt (it’s almost blasphemous not to in the tech industry), we’re still confused as to why the girls “retreat” looked so sparse, while the boys’ “summit” looked more festive. And why the girls didn’t get fancy nametags. We’re especially concerned with the language in the school’s original post, where the familiar burden to build each other up was placed on 7 to 10-year-old girls, while boys of the same age were taught individual ways to level up.