I wasn’t surprised when my parents told me I would attend an all-girls high school. I had heard my mother marvel about how empowering and impactful an experience it would be and my protests seemed to do nothing to sway her opinion.
When our family suddenly moved to St. Paul, Minnesota from Detroit in the middle of my eighth grade school year, our realtor suggested we check out Convent of the Visitation School. It had everything my parents wanted—small class sizes for individualized attention, a robust and challenging academic program, and excellent extracurricular opportunities. Plus, it was the only all-girls middle and high school in the area. They were sold on the school immediately. I was going to Visitation. I wasn’t surprised, but I really wasn’t happy about it.
In typical teenage girl fashion, I was frustrated my parents seemed hell-bent on denying me a “typical” high school experience. I grew up attending co-ed schools, so why did that need to change for high school? Why would I want to spend four years surrounded by girls and only girls? If I went to an all-girls school, how would I ever socialize with boys? I was confused and irritated but, like the rule-follower I’ve always been, I grudgingly conceded and accepted my fate. The four years flew by and despite my disapproval, I did well at Visitation. Soon it was time to choose a college, and I told anyone who would listen that I would never attend an all-girls school ever again. I told my parents that if they had given me a choice, I definitely would have chosen to go to a co-ed high school. I told myself that four years in an all-girls environment didn’t impact me in any way.
Six years later I am the marketing and grants coordinator at Josephinum Academy, a Catholic all-girls high school in Chicago. After looking back on my experience in an all-girls environment as a student and reflecting on it as a staff member, I see how this kind of community pushes young women to succeed and reach their potential. Clearly, my all-girls high school experience made more of an impact on me than I was willing to admit at 18.
All-girls schools do something special that co-ed high schools aren’t able to—they teach young women that there is power in being a woman. An all-girls environment creates a culture of achievement in which academic progress and individual development is celebrated and valued. Every leadership role, from school president to captain of the soccer team to the lead in the school play, is held by a girl. In all-girls schools, students are more likely to focus on their schoolwork, get involved in extracurricular school activities, and pursue a leadership position.
According to statistics from the Fordham Urban Law Journal and the National Coalition of Girls Schools, nearly 75 percent of girls attending all-girls schools say that the experience taught them that women can accomplish anything; 83 percent of all-girls school graduates perceive themselves to be better prepared for college than female counterparts from co-ed high schools, and 91 percent of graduates say that attending an all-girls school helped them focus on academics and encouraged them to test their intellectual limits.
Additionally, all-girls schools challenge society to level the playing field between men and women. They create environments where girls are accustomed to having their voices heard and regularly see women holding leadership roles, creating a model for the world young women want and deserve. Society has not completely caught up to this concept. But all-girls schools are cultivating young women who are not willing to settle for smaller roles or paychecks in the workplace, and that is so important.
In my role at Josephinum, I am inspired every day by our driven, intelligent students and the remarkable faculty who support and teach them. I saw so many students enter the school this year as timid, shy young women and have been blown away by their transformations. I’ve watched them perform poems they’ve written in the talent show, start their own clubs, and compete in varsity basketball games. They have big dreams and are confident in their ability to work hard to achieve them. This all-girls environment has shown them that they can and should take center stage.
I didn’t realize how important my high school experience was in making me who I am until after I graduated college. At age 15, I was told I could be anyone I wanted to be and accomplish anything I set my mind to. I spoke up often in class and was told that my opinions mattered. I was encouraged to apply to prestigious universities and to negotiate for scholarships. My teachers pushed me to achieve my potential and taught me that service to your community and others is just as important as establishing yourself professionally. I left Visitation confident and polished with high expectations for myself. Since then, nothing has felt like it is out of reach, and I know I have the tools and skills to accomplish whatever I work toward.
At Josephinum I’m able to encourage the next generation of young women to explore new opportunities and set big goals for themselves. I want them to be confident and to know that there are no limits to what and who they can become. Most importantly, I want this special community to set them up for success. It took me six years to realize how instrumental an all-girls environment was in making me the woman I am today. My school experience helped me find my voice—and now I’m grateful for the opportunity to help the young women at Josephinum Academy find theirs.
Image: Wikimedia Commons cc via Josephinum Academy