Becoming her 'best self'
March 18, 2021
Editor’s Note: Dean M. Lynn Rasch has experienced Culver Girls Academy from every angle. She is a 1976 graduate and has been part of the Culver Academies staff for 34 years, six years in Horsemanship and 28 with CGA. She explains how the CGA leadership system prepares students for life after Culver.
Today, more than ever, girls are eager to develop their thoughts and talents, have their voice heard, be empowered, and make a difference in the world around them. At Culver, it is our desire that every young woman feel welcome, supported, nurtured, and experience multiple opportunities that enable her to mature and grow into her best self during her journey.
The month of August is an invigorating time on our campus as the Culver Girls Academy (CGA) community welcomes new girls from around the world to the place that will become their second home. CGA leaders, known as prefects, take our new girls under their wings to help them acclimate and begin a path to living, learning, and leading at Culver.
CGA Leadership Training provides girls a myriad of opportunities to develop their skills in a challenging but supportive environment. The Crest the girls proudly wear on their dress blazer signifies that they have earned full membership into CGA. Receiving one’s Crest is a milestone along the girl’s journey that requires months of effort.
To earn her Crest, each student engages in weekly workshops led by student leaders, writes reflections about significant experiences and ceremonies at Culver, demonstrates knowledge of Culver history, values, expectations and practices. They must also demonstrate an understanding of the Culver Honor Code, Culver Code of Conduct and the Culver Diversity Statement.
The CGA Crest has four quadrants modeled after the Culver Legion logo. The oak leaf surrounded by a chain represents Strength of Friendship, an open book flanked by torches represents Knowledge and Tradition, broadswords and scales represent Strength and Justice and a star enclosed by a wreath represents Service and Success.
The theme of each quadrant is also reflected in the focus of the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior leadership training curriculum. The leadership focus for the freshman year is Leading Self and Strength of Friendship. When freshman girls arrive at Culver, their transition to dorm and campus life involves guided adjustment. CGA’s Freshman Life Skills curriculum assists girls in learning the basics of dorm living, followership, making wise choices, conflict resolution, and time management through weekly workshops led by staff and student leaders. The girls develop a strong sense of sisterhood in CGA by developing dorm unity and relationships with roommates, peers, student leaders, Resident Director, and Counselor.
From Middle School to Boarding School
All students experience a significant leap from middle school to high school and the transition from living at home to boarding school involves additional elements of adjustment. Acclimating may take girls about six weeks. Some are comfortable immediately, and others take more time to feel at home. In a speech to new students embarking on their first days at Culver, Senior Prefect Erin Luck `15 told her story of apprehension and doubt as a first-year student.
She confessed that shortly after her arrival she told her parents not to pay her tuition for the second semester. Erin truly believed she would not return after winter break. Although she admitted to being very homesick during her first year, she ultimately leaned into the experience and by the end of her junior year was elected by her peers to serve as first rotation Senior Prefect. The Senior Prefect is the highest leadership position in Culver Girls Academy. Erin shared her story to encourage new students to look past their trepidation and anxiousness to envision the possibilities ahead.
Knowledge and Tradition
During the sophomore year, CGA leadership curriculum focuses on Knowledge and Tradition. Workshops are designed to assist our girls in gaining a greater sense of self-awareness and encouraging them to consider the needs and concerns of others. Sophomores develop and present proposals that address an identified need within the dorm and supports the dorm’s stated goals. The procedure models the process CGA students use when proposing school-wide changes through CGA Council.
Through formal presentations to panels of student leaders, girls not only learn practical skills for expressing their ideas but have the opportunity to obtain constructive feedback from peers. Each proposal is vetted, and a few ideas are selected for sophomores to work on together in implementing and thus gain experience in follow through. This process exemplifies the cycle of CGA student leadership as younger students observe leaders modeling skills, they too will develop and practice in years to come.
Sophomores also practice the life skills of interviewing and resume writing. They gain a better understanding of the CGA Leadership system as well as prefect-position roles and responsibilities. Girls become more independent, more confident in their abilities, and well prepared to assume a formal leadership role.
Abby Krouse (Valparaiso, Indiana) is one of many examples of CGA sophomores taking what they learn in leadership training and implementing it in an extracurricular activity. Krouse serves as the Ithaka Dorm Representative for the Leadership Committee for Africa (LCA). This fall, she realized that COVID mitigation protocols would significantly impact the club’s traditional activities. She proposed that the club conduct bake sales on campus as a way to engage students in the club and provide snacks when campus was not open to delivery or visitors. Abby applied what she learned in CGA leadership training, enlisted students and adults from across campus to make and sell baked goods, and helped keep LCA operational while following COVID safety protocols.
Strength and Justice
During the junior year, CGA leadership focuses on Strength and Justice. Junior girls serve as prefects, model leadership behaviors learned in the freshman and sophomore year, and explore their leadership strengths. In their work as prefects, leaders support the community standards, serve on committees that serve the community, and actively participate in workshops to practice teaming and collaboration led by senior leaders. Girls learn the art of decision making as they balance the needs of the community with their own needs. Juniors are empowered to lead others and provide input on where they see opportunities to enhance and improve the leadership system.
Mikel Alvis ’22 (Norman, Oklahoma) proposed to the CGA Council (a committee comprised of Chairwomen from all of the CGA leadership committees and dorms) enhancements to the Senior Prefect election process to enable voters to be more well educated about each candidate. The Senior Prefect is elected by a majority vote of CGA leaders, and Mikel recognized that some students wanted to know more about each candidate’s qualifications and experience.
Mikel proposed that the Senior Prefect ballot be expanded to include a leadership statement, photo, and list of previous leadership positions. In addition, Mikel proposed incorporating an opportunity for students to hear from the top candidates prior to casting their vote in the final run off. CGA students contribute and lead the way. Past proposals have led to the creation of new ceremonies, traditions, and leadership opportunities.
Service and Success
The senior leadership curriculum focuses on Service and Success. Seniors have an active role in leading their school, teaching, and empowering our younger students, and modeling the high standards that are expected of every senior leader. Our seniors are integral to our program as they are responsible for implementing and leading workshops at every grade level.
The CGA Honor Council oversees Crest Training for all new girls. Freshmen work with the Freshmen Life Skills Prefects, Sophomores are led by Leadership and Life Skills Prefects, and Juniors attend workshops presented by the Leadership Training Prefects. The senior leaders on each of these committees work with their adult advisors to create, revise and implement workshops that best meet the needs of the students and our program. Senior workshops focus on topics such as workshop facilitation, bystander training, money management, and the transition to college with guidance from the Senior Leadership and Life Skills Prefects.
Sherry (Yichen) Xie `21 (Shanghai, China) demonstrated her leadership training, determination and initiative by serving as the CGA Council Chair, one of the top CGA leadership roles, for the first leadership rotation while she was in Shanghai, China. There are three leadership rotations each school year to maximize opportunities for students. Sherry was unable to return to campus in the fall due to the pandemic.
From her home in Shanghai, Sherry conducted the CGA Council meetings, conferred with her adult advisors and student leaders by Zoom, and prepared for and participated in our founder’s day ceremony, Dean England’s Day. Sherry also coordinated and oversaw the Crest training of our new CGA students in the Asia/Pacific region who were learning remotely at the start of the school year. Sherry’s creativity, resilience, tenacity, and determination are representative of so many of our senior leaders. Sherry was able to return to campus in January and she continues to lead the way.
Hands-on Leadership Practice
Culver Girls Academy is fortunate to have a dedicated Student Life Residential Staff who care for our girls full time. These adults supervise the overall progress, development and leadership training of each girl. The team is responsible for implementing leadership training and providing our girls with a living, learning laboratory where they can grow and develop into world class leaders. No other school provides such extensive opportunities for hands-on leadership practice.
My father gave me the best gift in my life by supporting my request to attend Culver Girls Academy over 45 years ago. I have had the pleasure of working at Culver for over 34 years and I have seen young women and young men graduate with self-confidence, determination, and a passion for life. These graduates have impacted our world with their ability and the leadership skills they first developed at Culver Academies.