The Case for Single Gender Schools

Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Academy of the Sacred Heart and Berchmans Academy and authored by Aimee David Cotter. 

The Case for Single Gender Schools

As a mom, I feel like I am constantly making major decisions that will seriously impact my kids’ lives. 

No, I’m not just talking about Cane’s vs. Chick Fil A, organic vs. processed, or antibiotics vs. oils. We have so many choices now, and with those choices come big questions and big ramifications. Remember when we were young and life was so simple and there weren’t so many choices? Take the prized American Girl Dolls, for example. Waaaaaaay back in the 80’s, you could either have Samantha, Molly (#TeamMolly #CampGowonagin #glassesandfreckles), or Kirsten, and if you were really lucky, your best friend had one, too, so you could swap the delicate and carefully crafted choking hazard accessories. Have you seen the most recent American Girl catalogue? Not only can you select a doll that looks exactly like your precious little one, but he or she also has an entire arsenal of expensive swag available for purchase: everything from a full-service kitchen and café to a space rocket to a hair salon. The choices and customizable options are endless, as are children’s wish lists.

But, now life is a lot more complicated than just the American Girl catalog, and the range of choices encompasses more than just brunette or blonde, freckles or glasses. 

Co-sleeping, breastfeeding, formula feeding, cry it out, nannies, daycare, preschool, mother’s day out, public school, private school, etc. Navigating through all of these choices and options is daunting and overwhelming. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the privilege in that statement.  co-ed or single gender education in Lafayette and surrounding areasChoice. We are so incredibly fortunate to be able to have these choices. But, those choices come with a price. The weight and responsibility of parenting and raising and forming our children keeps me up at night. Are we doing the best that we can for them? Are we spoiling them? Are we giving them enough? Are we enough? How will our choices for their futures impact who they become? Am I opening them up to experience a world of wonder or do they need to be sheltered? Am I stifling them and limiting their potential or am I protecting and shielding them? This is heavy stuff.

When it came to choosing a school for our daughter, Claire (8), and our sons, James (6) and William (4), we were inundated with so many choices: public or private, parochial or independent, traditional or progressive, and single gender or co-ed. As an alum of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, I knew the intrinsic benefits of a single gender school and knew in my heart how it could benefit our children. My husband, however, went to a large Catholic school for Kindergarten-8th grade, and he went on to a larger, magnet public high school in Shreveport, LA. I graduated with 32 girls. He graduated with 400 co-ed peers. Comparing our school experiences is like comparing apples and bicycles.

We both felt that single gender education could be the right choice for our children, but we wanted to learn all that we could about this topic.

For us to be able to make the best decision for the education of our children and best meet the personal needs of our family, we felt compelled to look beyond our personal experiences and study and understand the research that is available. While evaluating this research, I learned so much more about the cognitive, emotional, and developmental differences in the education of boys and girls, and it stretched much, much farther than my own anecdotal experience. Boys and girls do grow and develop and learn at different rates and in different ways, so of course it makes sense that their education should be tailored to how to best meet their individual needs.

This is some of the most compelling and interesting data that I have found in favor of single gender education for girls:

Building Self-Confidence:

The Majority (60%) of girls’ school grads report higher self confidence over their coed peers (54%).Dr. Linda Sax, UCLS, Women how to choose schools and the choices involved in single sex educationGraduates of Single Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and Transition to College. Girls’ school students are more likely than their female peers at coed schools to experience an environment that welcomes and open and safe exchange of ideas. Nearly 87% of girls’ school students feel their opinions are respected at their school (compared to 58% of girls at coed schools). Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools

Development of Leadership Skills:

93% of girls’ school grads say they were offered greater leadership opportunities than peers at coed schools and 80% have held leadership positions since graduating from high school. Goodman Research Group, The Girls’ School Experience: A Survey of Young Alumnae of Single-Sex Schools

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM):

Girls’ school grads are 6 times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology compared to girls who attend coed schools. –Goodman Research Group, The Girls’ School Experience: A Survey of Young Alumnae of Single-Sex Schools. Compared to co-ed peers, girls’ school grads are 3 times more likely to consider engineering careers.Dr. Linda Sax, UCLA, Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College

Career Aspirations: 

Students at all-girl schools have higher aspirations and greater motivation than their female peers at co-ed independent and Academy of the Sacred Heart Grand Coteau offers single gender educationpublic schools. 99% of students at all-girls schools expect to earn a four-year degree. More than 2/3 expect to earn a graduate or professional degree. Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools

And, the benefits of a single-sex education environment extend far beyond just benefits for girls. I found the following information about how boys learn and develop fascinating:

Physiological Differentiation: 

Based on findings utilizing fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) of male and female brains, researchers have observed the physiological differences in the brains of boys and girls that demonstrate how they learn in different ways. For instance, based on these scientific findings, researchers have identified that boys’ brains absorb and learn better in environments that allow movement, space, action, and rest and when information is presented in small portions. For these reasons, boys’ may be at a disadvantage in typical coed classrooms when the pedagogy is based on verbal and auditory learning patterns which are better suited for how girls learn. Boys need to see and move to learn!

Boys perform better when their curriculum is customized to how their brains process information. –Abigail Norfleet James, author of Teaching the Male Brain: How Boys Think, Feel, and Learn in School, has closely studied the physiological differences in boys’ and girls’ brains and adapted those findings for the classroom to better equip educators to tailor their teaching practices to meet the gender specific needs, weaknesses and strengths. 

Communication Skills:

All boys school at Berchmans Academy in Grand Coteau

Boys excel and thrive when they understand meaning and purpose, and educators and parents should incorporate that strategy when communicating with boys.  Boys’ brains are left hemisphere processors, they do not respond to social cues on the same level as girls. –Adam J. Cox, Ph.D., author of Cracking the Boy Code; How to Understand and Talk with Boys and Boys of Few Words. 

And, the use of electronics further complicates their abilities. He writes, “We have a whole generation of kids who are missing all kinds of social cues because of the incredible impact of electronics and that situation is not likely to reverse itself anytime soon. So, we need to give boys a lot of help with activating the right hemisphere.” He writes that boys “want to make a contribution, to do work of merit. If we want kids to spend less time playing games, we have to provide some viable alternatives.”

Emotional Literacy

Emotional Literacy is the most valuable gift we can offer our sons, and we must urge parents to recognize the price boys pay when we hold them to an impossible standard of manhood. By helping boys to cultivate emotional awareness and empathy, they are given the vital connections and support they need to navigate the social pressures of youth. Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., New York Times Bestseller, Raising Cain; Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.

After a lot of conversation and prayerful consideration, we made the decision to send our children to single gender schools, and we have been able to watch as our children blossom and grow into the best versions of themselves.     

Our Claire, who is naturally reserved and introverted, has found her voice and she is determined to light up our world as a future President of the United States. She states that she wants to be a positive agent for change, and she feels empowered and able to do so. Our boys, James and William, have built bonds of brotherhood with their classmates, and they relish every opportunity to learn and absorb in their educational environment that is 100% geared for how boys learn (did you know that they have an outdoor treehouse classroom?). Girls and boys do develop and learn differently, so it makes a lot of sense that their classroom environments need to be structured differently, too! My children and their classmates still benefit from co-ed interactions at school during all school masses, lunch, and special activities throughout the year, but their classroom time is devoted to their gender-specific needs. It’s a wonderful balance! Single-gender education has had a strong presence in our Acadiana community for nearly 200 years, and the awareness, interest, and research continues to rise.

If you are looking at schools for your children, I urge you to put single-gender schools on the menu: go out, tour, and do your own research. The choices are all there. 

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