May 20, 2012. I am standing confidently in my royal blue graduation robe looking out to friends and family who filled the Orpheum Theater in Omaha that Sunday afternoon. One-by-one, 166 classmates received their high school diplomas. The thing is, all 166 of my classmates were women.
I had the choice of where I wanted to attend high school. When I say choice, I mean I was allowed to decide between three private, all-girl schools and one coed private school. Something interested me in the all-girl schools. Maybe it was my inner desire to sleep in my school uniform every night. Or to not wear makeup and not worry about my hair. And maybe not having the opposite gender in the classroom wouldn’t be so bad after all. It also could have been my desire to be in a completely unique environment, surrounded by inspiring women leaders.
If you have never had the opportunity to experience what is it like to be inside of a single-sex school, words will not do it justice. Being in a single-sex school empowered us young women to succeed as confident, independent, thinking leaders. Yes, a coed school could have done the same, but do they instill these qualities in their students on a day-to-day basis? With a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum, I couldn’t have found a better education elsewhere. A study conducted by UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies stated that female graduates of single-sex high schools demonstrate stronger academic orientations than their coeducational counterparts. The reports’ findings drew from a number of different categories: self-confidence, political and social activism, life goals and career orientation. They also concluded that graduates from single-sex high schools receive higher SAT scores, and higher confidence in their mathematics and computer skills.
Studies by the University of Virginia and the National Foundation for Educational Research in the United Kingdom also indicate that same-sex schools can break down gender stereotypes. Girls are allowed to explore subjects such as mathematics and engineering, both seen as “male subjects,” without being constrained by gender stereotypes. This leads to girls exploring more “non-traditional” courses. In a classroom setting, girls can speak their opinions without measuring how the opposite sex will react to what they think. The student role models in their school are all their own sex. The most amazing “physics geek” is a girl. The top shooter on the trap team is a girl, the student body president is a girl, the best athletes are all girls, etc. This shows younger girls it’s more than OK to excel in science, sports, leading the student body, and that girls can shoot guns just as well as boys. The same would go for boys at a single-sex school. Being interested in the arts and theatre is more accepted, breaking gender stereotypes.
Besides the education and learning aspect, the culture and community formed at single-sex schools speaks louder than any SAT score. It’s a place where girls or boys can truly develop their full potential through guidance from their teachers and other classmates. High school is a very vulnerable time in students lives when they are trying to discover who they are and what kind of person they want to be. Being in a single-sex school environment gives them that opportunity. It gives them this opportunity by creating an environment where it’s “cool” to be smart, and your class is so close that they push you to do your best in every aspect. They focus on being balanced as an entire person. Not just academically, but spiritually, physically and emotionally. We don’t learn this straight from the book. We learn this from our peers and teachers.
The identity that going to a single-sex school gives you is invaluable. It’s a sense of confidence and embracing leadership when necessary, but, at the same time, being able to fall back into the embrace of your peers. Throughout my four years in high school, my classmates became more than girls sitting next to me during a test. They became my support system — a sisterhood, even — and the bond between classmates at most single-sex schools are life-long and continue to strengthen over generations.
Imagine this: a massive group of 166 girls parading through Creighton University’s campus. They are dressed up as hot air balloons, matching with their hair in braids and fresh white Keds that they had to search all through Omaha for. Every single one of these girls are singing in unison songs they have practiced for more than a week, with parents and friends lining the street to take pictures and witness this once-a-year sight. This is my high school’s longest tradition. We spent a week preparing for “Field Day.” We patiently came together to make marching band-like formations that include all 166 of us singing original songs that coincide with our theme. All of April was spent thinking and preparing for the first Friday in May. It may seem silly to some, but this tradition that brings our class together, year after year, even after we graduated, would never be possible if our high school was a coed environment.
There will always be a constant disagreement on whether coed or single-sex schools create a better learning environment. Single-sex schools instill values and the confidence to be a leader in school and their community every day. It’s a place where it’s “cool” to be smart. Just as research and personal experience shows, single-sex schools empower young people to succeed in all aspects of their life. It’s not just an education; it’s an experience.
*Note – this article was originally written by Claire Wieger and published in the Daily Nebraskan.