Maggie Dickman ’08: Saying ‘Yes’ to new experiences

Maggie Dickman

In many ways, Maggie Dickman ’08 could not be in a more different educational environment today than the one she experienced as a super-lifer at Colorado Academy. As Dean of Students for both the Middle and High School of Girls Athletic Leadership Schools Denver (GALS), she is tasked with handling behavior and disciplinary issues for 500 girls, including at-risk students with a variety of learning levels and styles. Recently, she was observing one of her most challenging students, a young woman who has had severe trauma and a very difficult home life, and who often directs her anger at the Dean of Students. And yet, Dickman says, “I love her more than I can put into words.”

On this particular day, the girl was participating in a social and emotional learning exercise that asks students to call on someone to make an “acknowledgment or apology.” The girl called on Dickman. “Miss D, I realize I make your life hell every day,” she said. “I am sorry for that. I want you to know I am happy you are dean and that you care about me.”

In that moment, Dickman could draw a direct line from her experiences at CA to her work at GALS. “What was so impactful about CA was that everyone welcomed me back each day as a fresh day, so that is what I try to do with this student,” she says. “At CA, I knew my teachers cared about me, and now, to be able to give that to someone who is vulnerable and has so much stacked against her is so fulfilling.”

Maggie Dickman with GALS students dressed as Rosie the Riveter for Halloween

From CA to Scripps

Dickman seems momentarily taken aback when she realizes that she has now been gone from CA for nearly 12 years—almost as long as the time she spent at the school. During those 12 years, she readily admits her life has followed a path which started with her teachers and the culture at CA, where “we were encouraged to try so many different opportunities.”

“I continue to be willing to say ‘yes’ to the new experiences,” she says. “I’m open to whatever comes my way, and instead of feeling terror about the unknown, I have a sense of trust.”

That openness to opportunity started with her college search, when she traveled to visit Pomona College and ended up enrolling at Scripps, a women’s college. She majored in Theater, largely due to her fond memories of (now-retired Director of Visual and Performing Arts) Angel Vigil and Theater Department Chair Steve Scherer.

“Mr. Scherer helped me find my self-confidence,” she says. “I felt so valued by him, and he struck a balance between being my teacher, mentor, and friend.”

Eventually, Dickman decided her future was not in Theater, so she changed her major to Hispanic Studies, again because of the influence of a CA teacher, Meg Hill.

“Ms. Hill made me feel so successful in her class because of how she supported all of us,” she says. “I try to model myself as an educator based on how she taught us.”

From Teach for America to GALS

During her Senior year at Scripps, Dickman was recruited by Teach for America (TFA), an organization that taps outstanding and diverse leaders to teach for two years in the local schools of low-income communities. At the end of her commitment to TFA, she again stepped into the unknown, accepting a job nannying for a family in Tel Aviv, Israel.

When she returned to the United States, she again said ‘yes,’ this time to a position teaching Middle School social studies at GALS, a charter school and the only public all-girls middle and high school in the Denver area. The school has a very diverse student body; the Sixth Grade pulls from 31 different elementary schools in Denver, with, as Dickman puts it, “some of the most affluent families all the way to homeless families.” GALS started in the basement of a Denver church; it is now a national operation, with schools in multiple cities.

Dickman believes her passions—a belief in strong female support, positive gender focus, and social and emotional learning—dovetail with the GALS mission. She also likes the school’s emphasis on athletics, which evokes memories of trying new sports at CA—Swimming, Lacrosse, and Field Hockey. At CA, Katy Hills, now Director of Visual and Performing Arts, was her Field Hockey coach. “I felt Katy Hills was a shining example of a good coach—a strong leader and a kind support system,” she says. “She taught us it’s not always about winning, but also about having fun.”

How GALS connects to CA

GALS, a tuition-free Denver Public School charter school, is the only public, single-gender, college-preparatory schools in Colorado. At GALS, Dickman saw the need for a course in social and emotional learning with a focus on emotional intelligence, communication, leadership skills, and conflict resolution. Working with her colleagues, she developed the curriculum for what started as an elective, but became so important that it was added to the core of the school’s curriculum, carrying as much weight as an academic class. “This is what I like about GALS,” she says. “The school puts so much value on education beyond purely academic achievement.”

Dickman has earned two master’s degrees, one in Education from the University of Colorado and one in School Leadership from Teachers College at Columbia University. She credits Upper School Principal Dr. Jon Vogels for inspiring her to learn more about being a school leader. “He was never impersonal and above it all,” she says. “Dr. Vogels knew all of his students and that had a profound impact on me.”

Now, Dickman is a leader in a very different school environment than the one she experienced. And yet, she finds similarities between GALS and CA despite the differences in demographic, location, and resources. “I find a familiar feel at GALS—a sense of belonging and an emphasis on social and emotional learning,” she says. “At GALS, we believe strongly in the need to build relationships with our students and families. I attribute the fact that I can do that 100 percent to CA and the teachers I had. I was so fortunate to have attended CA. Now, I feel like it’s my duty to share what I had with students who don’t have that opportunity.”