New York City
March 2003

On the Advantages of All-Girls’ School
By Dorothy Hutcheson

Recently, 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.#

Dorothy Hutcheson is the Head of the Nightingale-Bamford School.

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