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All-girls schools are forming the leaders of tomorrow

Joel Molina
Principal Cynthia Ontiveros started the academy to allow young women’s voices and ideas to be heard.

Missed opportunities sparked the idea for Cynthia Ontiveros, Ph.D. to pitch a young women’s academy that was based on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) to the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD). 

During high school, Ontiveros was not able to take advanced science classes; students had to either be “smart enough” or handpicked by the teacher. Although she missed that opportunity but took the next best one.  

Through physics and woodworking classes, Ontiveros learned of her passion for science but also the importance of creativity. She also saw how male-dominated these classes were, which is what pushed her to help create the Young Women’s STEAM Research & Preparatory Academy (YWA), a school that would allow young women’s voices and ideas to be heard, grant them opportunities, and prepare them for their futures.

Ontiveros studied microbiology at UTEP with the goal of becoming a medical doctor. After applying for a substitute position while studying for her medical school exam, she qualified for a full-time teaching position and landed in the world of education.  

She shares how an all-girl’s school opens the opportunity to have women get their voices heard and take lead as they are not in a co-ed environment where she says males have a higher tendency to get chosen over girls.  

“Single gendered schools like the Young Women’s Academy really hone in on educating females and empowering them,” Ontiveros said. “We have created a safe environment to create that confidence and leadership. For girls growing up especially in critical years of middle school they don’t want to look smart, so they’re fine with settling.” 

Naomi Conner is YWA’s college, career and military advisor and student activities manager, but has taken other roles including clerk and art teacher. 

She says a major way YWA is preparing young women for college and their careers is by allowing and supporting them taking agency over their pathways and that their education is an opportunity. 

“Think of your education as opportunities over programs. Our school is about opportunity. We think big and that’s our goal to get our students to think big,” Conner said. 

YWA is a small school with their first graduating class in 2023 only having 27 students, but Ontiveros and Conner see this as a bonus to the school as it not only allows them to take on more leadership but also have closer relationships with their teachers making it easier to guide students as they go onto their next steps.  

“The students really took ownership over their pathways, and I like to think that our teachers empowered the students to know you don’t have to wait for anybody to achieve your dream, you take advantage of every open door that is available to you, and I don’t think a lot of students get that kind of advice or encouragement,” Conner said.  

Opportunities for YWA also come in the form of mentors and professionals from UTEP. The school has collaborated with UTEP’s engineering program for a summer camp and UTEP engineering week every year since their opening in 2017.  

YWA and UTEP’s education and computer science department also got a grant with the National Science Foundation that allowed teachers at YWA to conduct and publish research on student’s experience and perception of computer science and computational thinking.  

Most recently, YWA middle and high school students got to collaborate with the UTEP Theater and Dance program to translate their play “Los Empeños de Una Casa.” 

All-girls schools are preparing young women to take their next steps in their career or higher education. Ontiveros and Conner believe that schools like the YWA create natural leaders that are ready to face challenges, take any opportunity they can and create a change in the world.  

Ximena Cordero is a staff reporter and may be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Ximena Cordero
Ximena Cordero, Staff Reporter
Ximena Cordero is a freshman at The University of Texas at El Paso. She is a staff reporter at The Prospector. She is majoring in communications and deciding between a minor in creative writing or English literature. After graduating, she would like to pursue a master's degree, work as a journalist or communication specialist, and maybe even write her own books. She wants a career that will allow her to explore the world and see new perspectives and cultures.
Joel Molina
Joel Molina, Photo Editor
Joel is a graduate creative writing student at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is the photo editor who began his career at The Prospector in 2022. He hopes to continue providing the world and its people with different forms of storytelling that will hopefully make their day to day lives better.
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    Pedro DelgadoApr 4, 2024 at 6:46 PM

    Ximena, great article!!! I am so very proud of you!!!