Student Story: Gateway Regional High School Marks Women’s History Month With Women’s Empowerment Week

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By: Paige Britt, Senior, Gateway Regional High School, Woodbury Heights, NJ

Photo credit: Gateway Regional High School

WOODBURY HEIGHTS, N.J. — March 1st marked the beginning of Women’s History month, a time to celebrate the accomplishments of influential historical figures, and the everyday women in one’s life. While this past year has been challenging for everyone, the Covid-19 pandemic placed a lot of weight on women’s shoulders especially. 

Every year, Gateway Regional High School hosts a Women’s Empowerment Week, where speakers visit the school and speak to female students about feminism, their career, and how they can feel empowered in their own lives. 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gateway has revamped the event to be fully virtual for students. From March 8th to March 11th, students heard from various female speakers through videos played during the morning announcements. This year, the event highlighted women who have helped with the pandemic and proven themselves to be strong leaders. In addition to this, Gateway Senior Genna Wermuth, advisor Melissa Eckstein, and librarian Ariel Sears created a website for the event, incorporating interactive elements for students. The website can be accessed here. 

Genna Wermuth talked about how she got involved in planning the event. 

“I got involved in the planning process after Mrs. Eckstein, the instructor running women’s week, reached out to me and asked if I would like to join her and help out with the process. She knew that I was interested in marketing and felt that this project would help me learn about different marketing tools like video editing and web design,” Wermuth said. 

Wermuth described how she connected with the speakers chosen for this year’s event. 

“The first speaker, Laurie Wermuth, is actually my mom. I felt like she would add a lot to this project because she is a licensed practicing nurse and has dealt with COVID patients firsthand,” Wermuth explained. “Since one of this year’s Women’s Empowerment themes is about how women have been able to overcome challenges during the pandemic I thought that having a nurse, like her, talk about her experiences would fit right into this theme.” 

She added onto this, saying, “The second speaker, Dr. Jill Weber, was chosen by Mrs. Eckstein. The reason Mrs. Eckstein chose her is because of her varying skill sets and high level of involvement with other women in her career field. Not only this, but Dr. Weber has also shown herself to be a good leader and has developed many business ventures to help fellow women, including her own competitors, stay afloat during the COVID crisis.”

Wermuth expanded on the changes made to the event this year due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

“This year’s Women’s Empowerment Week is going to be quite different than years in the past, for obvious reasons. There aren’t going to be as many guest speakers as we have had in the past and everything will be digitized,” Wermuth said. 

Despite the challenges faced, Wermuth described the positive aspects of having to rework the details of the event. 

“Though this was not exactly planned or what we had hoped to happen, there are actually quite a few upsides to the changes that have been made this year,” Wermuth stated. “For one thing, now that everything is digitized we have been able to create a webpage that acts as a centralized place for all different information about the week. Not only this, but we also have been able to expand the type of information mentioned during the week. Instead of just focusing on the guest speakers there is also information about female run businesses to support, empowering movies to watch, and uplifting songs to listen as well as much more.”

Wermuth noted that due to the event being virtual, it will reach a larger audience. 

“The final, and probably, most important upside is the fact that more people can be involved this year than in years past. All of the challenges, videos, and media that have been created can be viewed and/or completed by anyone, even people from outside the event or school district. It’s really nice that we have been able to make everything so inclusive during times like these,” Wermuth commented. 

One of this year’s speakers, Laurie Wermuth, a registered nurse who has been on the frontline alongside healthcare workers through the pandemic, expresses her admiration for her fellow coworkers. 

“It has been inspiring to work with my fellow nurses, doctors, and certified nursing assistants who continue to show up every day, expressing a willingness to work extra hours and help in whatever ways they can despite the fear and uncertainty of a heightened risk of infection,” Wermuth said. 

Wermuth described the challenges she has faced in her work field due to the pandemic. 

“It has been a real rollercoaster. Our day to day job has changed drastically and we have had to perform tasks that are not necessarily part of our own job description,” Wermuth noted. “We have had to deal with increasing demands to work longer hours as our co-workers have become sick or are quarantined. We have had to balance our commitment to help others while also protecting ourselves and our loved ones.” 

Wermuth commented on juggling both professional and personal obstacles, and Covid-19 has affected other women in her workplace. 

“I feel that working women have been hit hardest in the form of job loss or reduction of work hours during the pandemic. I work with primarily women and the challenges that some of my co-workers have faced have been related to child care and virtual learning,” said Wermuth. “My one coworker had to change her hours from full time/day shift to part time/weekend shift to assist with her children’s virtual learning during the week. I think a lot of women with various careers have faced this challenge and have had to make very difficult decisions about their careers.”

Another speaker for this year’s event, Dr. Jill Weber, restaurant owner and archaeologist, commented on her responsibilities as a business owner during the pandemic. 

“As the leader of a company, I’m always charged with managing people with different viewpoints, abilities, and personalities. These differences increased a lot during the pandemic. Some people were afraid to come to work, while others thought nothing of using mass transit and being in crowds. People were very frightened for their health, but also for their job security and for their benefit (namely health insurance) to continue. We were always trying to ensure that people felt their physical and financial health was being looked after,” Weber said. 

Weber talked about the challenges she has faced in her work field due to Covid-19. 

“Restaurants were hit really hard by the pandemic, as we were initially closed completely

before being allowed to open for take-out only. So, we lost a lot of money. That is a big blow,” Weber noted. “But, we were able to shift our outlook and figure out how to make more money from take-out. We also had to look to diversify our income in other ways – seek out

catering opportunities, look for grants, identify people we might work with for

promotions, to help our visibility.”

Dr. Weber mentioned the difficulties of not being able to travel during this time on a professional and personal level. 

“Also, I’m an archaeologist who travels for work! I had field season in Iraq and Italy

canceled in 2020, and now again in 2021. That is a big blow to my professional life –

and my mental health! I love to travel and I feel very stagnant being at home for so long,” Weber commented. 

Weber discussed the challenges that have been placed on women, and the toll it has taken on women owned businesses. 

“The pandemic has taken an economic toll on many businesses, particularly on restaurants. More significantly, those economic tolls have been highest on women and women-owned businesses. The causes are many but include: women’s often-disproportionate allotment of house work and child care, the overall lower wages earned by women and metaphorical glass ceilings, and the lack of institutional support from banks and investors from women’s initiatives,” Weber said. 

Despite the setbacks women business owners have faced, Weber is confident in their determination during these difficult times. 

“We were at a disadvantage before, and are still at a disadvantage from the formal economy. That said, women are really, really good at working the informal economy – which includes sharing, bartering, helping – and I think that puts us in a great position to figure out how to get through this. Women are pretty gritty people – especially women business owners – and we’ll do what it takes to get things done,” Weber noted. 

Lastly, Genna Wermuth expressed her passion for the project, and gratefulness for it coming to fruition. 

“I think that this event is important because it gives females of all ages, but especially young female students, the chance to see how important it is to uplift one another. Oftentimes in media women are treated more as objects and are pitted against each other through comparisons. This week is meant to serve as an example of how that shouldn’t be the case. It really is meant to highlight women supporting other women, even in tough times like a pandemic. I would like to say a special thanks to Mrs. Eckstein, Ms. Sears, and my marketing mentor Mrs. Jeanette Iverson Rattle for their involvement and for making this project actually happen,” Wermuth noted.

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