the Advantages of All-Girls’ School
we welcomed parents of Kinder-garten applicants for an “Insider’s
View of the Lower School.” Five juniors and seniors—Maha Atal
’04, Sonje Hawkins ’03, Ali Jones ’04, Danielle Tappitake ’03,
and Charlotte Winthrop ’04—addressed the parents in the
auditorium. The visitors were bowled over by our students’ confidence
and the seeming ease with which they talked about their teachers,
courses and activities, and favorite memories of their Lower School
years. Their overall message was that Nightingale teachers had
encouraged them to develop academic passions, which included genetics,
French, European history, and creative writing. They also spoke
about activities, such as the debate team and the newspaper, that
give them the opportunity to question the status quo and to think
independently. Their confidence in their abilities, their leadership
in every aspect of school life, and their clear focus on academics
as the top priority of school confirmed the positive effects of
a Nightingale education.
Throughout the admissions process, parents frequently ask me about
the advantages of all-girls’ schools. As the product of an all-girls’
school, the mother of a 9-year-old daughter, and the head of Nightingale
for the past 11 years, I have a personal and professional conviction
about the power of single-sex education. One of my colleagues,
formerly a college professor, maintains that she could easily
spot the young women in her class from girls’ schools; they were
the ones who jumped right into the discussion. Many Nightingale
alumnae tell me about being singled out by their professors in
college because of their confidence in the classroom.
Girls’ schools such as Nightingale work because they offer both
a culture and a curriculum which allow girls to achieve and be
successful as students and as individuals. In every facet of school
life at girls’ school, girls and women’s accomplishments are valued
and appreciated. Most importantly, girls run the show. At Upper
School Morning Meetings, the stage is full of students making
announcements about clubs, teams, and activities; they are clearly
in charge. Girls serve as the school president, editor of the
newspaper, and captain of the soccer team; their thoughts and
opinions are taken seriously. I think it’s a wonderful problem
that Morning Meetings often run over because we have so many announcements,
all being made by young women running various activities. Younger
girls look up to these students and imagine themselves as leaders
in their later years at Nightingale. In coed schools, by contrast,
males often dominate the leadership roles.
Girls also have plenty of women role models at Nightingale. The
head of the Math Department is a woman, and Nightingale’s AP calculus
teacher has her master’s degree in electrical engineering. Women
lead the administration. We invite guest speakers who are terrific
role models as well: women scientists, authors, and business people.
Over and over again, girls here get the strong message that women
are leaders in a variety of fields.
Numerous research studies have shown that girls enter school excited
about learning and equal or outperform their male counterparts
in academic assessments. By the end of eighth grade, however,
girls’ achievements and interests have fallen behind that of boys
in the critical areas of math and science. We address that directly
at Nightingale. Math is required for 13 years, and over 90 percent
of our graduates have taken three or more years of science in
high school, usually biology, chemistry, and physics. Far from
being outnumbered in physics classes by males, girls are the physics
classes at Nightingale.
The all-girls’ advantage is real at Nightin-gale, as every day
students speak and lead with confidence and know that their voices
will be heard by their teachers and their peers. The experience
of a single-sex education provides our girls with a strong sense
of their own value and their own power, equipping them to confidently
deal with life’s challenges and choices.#
Hutcheson is the Head of the Nightingale-Bamford School.
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