Views on All-Girls’ Education:
Convent of the Sacred Heart
Do you believe academic achievement is higher for girls in an all-girls academic setting?
There is a growing consensus, based on an increasing amount of solidly researched data from around the world, that single sex-schools allow children to achieve greater success.
Within the last ten years, we have gained a much better understanding of the functioning of the brain, and it has been established that girls think, interact, lead and make decisions in ways psychologically and developmentally different than boys.
A single-sex school can address girls’ specific developmental needs by fostering what Dr. Joann Deak calls “against-the-grain” learning. That is, all-girls settings can emphasize skills involving motor, spatial and strategy tasks. They can also ensure that math, science, and technology are vital parts of the curriculum, breaking through the stereotypes of girls’ perceived inferiority in these subject areas and promoting less gender-polarized attitudes.
Is there a benefit to single sex education in non-academic areas?
The brain imaging that shows that female and male brains are wired quite differently applies not only to academic skills but to social and emotional development as well. Girls approach all the skills of living—not only learning but also communicating and interacting—in a different way than boys. Single-sex schools, therefore, allow young women not only to become successful students but also to realize their full potential. An all-girls setting fosters opportunities to resist societal pressures, allowing a young woman to cultivate a strong understanding of her own identity. As young women experience the changes in body, mind and spirit that occur during adolescence, they need an encouraging and supportive environment in which to take risks as they recognize themselves as scholars and athletes, artists and leaders. Single-sex schools offer girls the opportunity to develop the confidence to make important choices and lead them to believe that they can achieve their dreams. American University professors Myra and David Sadker put it this way: “When girls go to single-sex schools, they stop being the audience and become the players.”
Is your faculty predominantly women?
The majority of our educators are women, but we strive to find faculty members who are mentors and role models no matter what their gender. Our teachers—female and male—are dedicated to helping girls grow and learn, and they each set an example of scholarship and integrity for their students. While female teachers can provide examples of what it means to be a successful woman, male teachers can challenge young women to defy society’s traditional limits on female achievement. Together they offer our students powerful messages about who they might become.
Approximately what percent of your students go on to single sex colleges? Coed colleges?
In general, the majority of our graduates choose coeducational colleges and universities. Many colleges and universities that were founded as single sex schools have become coeducational, which, in part, is reflective of the research that single sex education is most effective in the developmental years. More important is the fact that no matter what institution our students choose to attend, they have a competitive advantage because of their girls’ school experience during the most important developmental time of their lives. They are not afraid to take charge of their learning, they are not afraid to defend their positions, and they have the confidence in their own skills and talents to face whatever challenges come their way.
Are there any other aspects of all-girls education that you wish to discuss?
Our foundress, Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, started the Sacred Heart schools over 200 years ago because there was a huge disparity between the education offered to women compared to that offered to men. While there is no longer such a drastic discrepancy between educational opportunities, St. Madeleine Sophie’s mission is as relevant today as it was in 1800. Our commitment to educating young women offers an alternative to the messages of materialism and superficiality—telling young women they must look and act a certain way—with which they are bombarded. At Sacred Heart, we counter these messages by giving girls a chance to cultivate a spiritual and value-centered dimension, which provides them with a deep sense of confidence, hope, and self-worth..#
Dr. Mary Blake is Headmistress of Convent of the Sacred Heart.