Michelle Obama, then First Lady of the United Stated States, visited Mulberry School for Girls in July 2015 to launch her Let Girls Learn campaign (now known as the Global Girls’Alliance). Her visit inspired our students to be advocates for girls’ right to education and our school has since supported the campaign through programmes of our own.
The visit was the rewarding culmination of our relationship with the US Embassy and a reflection of our school’s longstanding commitment to women’s education. Students welcomed Mrs Obama, hosted her throughout her visit, and had the opportunity to ask questions during her discussion with Julia Gillard, Former Prime Minister of Australia and Dr Vanessa Ogden, CEO of the Mulberry Schools Trust and Headteacher, Mulberry School for Girls. Mrs Obama delivered a heartfelt speech about the urgent need to prioritise girls’ education and made it clear to Mulberry students and their peers that they a central part of this global conversation. Her story about her own background, growing up in a working class neighbourhood in Chicago, resonated with many of our students. It encouraged them to be ambitious and to lend their talent to helping other girls across the world. Her speech can be viewed in full on YouTube and you can read a student’s account of the visit and its impact here.
Mulberry was subsequently invited to the White House and students were selected for this opportunity through an inclusive but rigorous application process. Students attended an open series of workshops on the history of the Civil Rights movement in the USA. The twenty successful students showed impressive commitment, real leadership potential and a passion for justice.
Mulberry students responded to their invitation to the White House in November 2015 with characteristic energy and confidence. Making the most of this incredible opportunity, as well as meeting Mrs Obama in Washington, our girls travelled across the USA to learn about the rich history of the Civil Rights Movement, in order to provide them with the tools they need to become agents of positive social change on a global scale. They celebrated the progress that has been made, explored the battles that are still being fought and are finding their own place as activists who can change their world for the better. They engaged in discussion about civil rights with leaders, politicians and young leaders their own age as well as following in the footsteps of some of their most admired heroes, Martin Luther King Jr and Ida B. Wells, on visits to key locations in the struggle for equality, including the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Civil Rights Heritage Trail in Birmingham, Alabama. The group shared their experience with the wider community by making a film and delivering a presentation and workshops at the Mulberry Youth Conference. You can read a full account of their journey on the school website here.
Tina Tchen gaveour second annual education lecture at the Royal Society of Arts on 16th February 2017. Tina is the former Assistant to the President and former Chief of Staff to the First Lady Michelle Obama. She spoke about the ‘Let Girls Learn’ campaign which is an initiative started by Michelle Obama and Tina to ensure that adolescent girls around the world get the education they deserve. Tina argued that educating girls can transform lives, families, communities, and entire countries and that when girls are educated, they lead healthier and more productive lives. They gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence to break the cycle of poverty and help strengthen their societies.
In April 2017, we hosted our first ever residential girls’ leadership development programme, Girl Leading, in support of Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn campaign. Girl Leading offered 65 girls attending secondary state schools in London and Somerset the chance to develop their leadership potential, focusing in particular on disadvantaged girls. Girl Leading was attended by 15 Mulberry students, and 50 students from 10 secondary state schools across London and Somerset.
Girl Leading was developed in partnership with a Student Leadership committee made up of students in Years 9, 10 and 12. Students had to undergo a rigorous application process, including a written application and interview, in order to earn a place on the committee. The committee met weekly, with additional meetings for sub-committees, and together with our Women’s Education Officer they planned and developed every aspect of Girl Leading, as well as helping to run the event across the weekend.
The programme took place against the stunning backdrop of the Quantock Hills in Somerset, at Kilve Court residential education centre. Students attended a range of talks and hands-on workshops led by expert speakers and facilitators, took part in some adventurous activities led by the team at Kilve Court, and benefited from a range of teaching resources written and developed by the Women’s Education Office. Through these activities, and through spending time together in a shared residential environment, students on the programme were challenged and encouraged to develop their own leadership skills and their own distinctive leadership style. Students ended the weekend by planning their own Personal Leadership Challenges: projects to be carried out in their school groups to support the work of the Let Girls Learn campaign in increasing girls’ access to education. This gave students the chance to continue independently developing the skills they learned at Girl Leading, and give them the perfect opportunity to support other girls around the world who are denied the right to an education, and therefore denied the chance to become leaders in their own right. Through supporting girls’ access to education, girls at Girl Leading are using their own leadership to help build a world in which every girl can fulfil her potential.