The Young Women's College Prep Charter School opened in August. It's Rochester's first and only, all-girls public school in the city. Those students Friday got a chance to really think about their futures at the school's first career day.
Dr. Wakenda Tyler is an orthopedic surgical oncologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She put her schedule on hold to speak to groups of seventh graders Friday at the Young Women's College Prep Charter School on Lake Ave. in Rochester.
Dr. Tyler is the first generation in her family to go to college. She said she sought out mentors and role models who inspired her to eventually make her way to Johns Hopkins Medical School.
"At their age, I didn't know that becoming an orthopedic surgeon was an option for me or even becoming a doctor was an option for me. It took later on in life having that exposure to realize that," said Dr. Tyler. "These girls aren't going to get that exposure probably on a daily basis in their homes. They need to know there are people just like them that go on to become orthopedic surgeons, doctors and lawyers, and astronauts and business owners."
YWCP has 79 students in the seventh grade. The school says its mission is to give young Rochester women an opportunity to learn in an environment without stereotypes to prepare them for graduation and college.
Part of that preparation is seeing what's possible in the future. The speakers today included an attorney, college professor, the owner of a gym and the president of a construction company.
Island Barley, 12, lives with her grandmother. She says she felt inspired hearing the Career Day stories. She wants to be a brain surgeon.
"When I was in my other school, we weren't talking about future plans. I'm talking about going to college. It wasn't never about that," said Barley. "But when I came to this school, I found my voice."
The majority of the girls at the school, more than 90 percent, are from Rochester's crescent that includes the city's poorest neighborhoods. School directors say it's important those students get a chance to hear from successful and accomplished women.
"Those economic circumstances do not define who they are. Their dreams are as big, and as real, and as important as any other child in this county and this country," said principal Dr. Jennifer Gkourlias. "We take them to colleges all the time. We treat them everyday as they are going to college. It's not an option in our school."
YWCP plans to become a full seventh through 12th-grade school in the coming years. It is accepting applications for its seventh grade class of 2013.