What comes to mind when you think about an all-girl school? Plaid skirts, starchy uniforms, and snobby rich girls or weird geniuses? A place where girls are surrounded by one another in a campus that is teeming with drama and the hardest class is learning how to perfect a home cooked meal? These stereotypes could not be more wrong. All-girl schools are filled with your average teenage girl who was looking for a different approach to their education. All-girl schools are focused on the self-empowerment and confidence of their students. It creates an environment with many unique benefits for its students and surrounds them in a loving place with a whole sisterhood and years of memories to be cherished forever. All-girl schools create a supportive and academically rigorous environment that benefits every student that walks through its doors.
There are many stereotypes that surround all-girl schools. Students of these all-girl schools are not unaware of the critique others may have of our unique environment. Schools are viewed as extremely restrictive, ruled by men-hating feminists, offering only easy classes, and absolutely drowning in gossip and drama. However, the reality of these schools are radically different. Some students who were not a part of the private school system argue that uniforms suppress individuality and take away the students’ right to express themselves. However, Megan Igel, Seton High School alum of the class of 2015 remembers, “I never felt stifled by our uniform. In fact, my uniform was one of my favorite parts about going to an all-girl school.” Igel even adds that “I still felt I had lots of opportunities to express myself through my personal style.” These rules that seem “restrictive” to students actually create a level ground among peers and allows the focus to be on school and not looking a certain way. Most all-girl school alums look back on their uniforms fondly and cherish the skirts they once dawned daily. Another stereotype that all-girl schools have about them is being full of men hating feminists. All-girl schools often fall into the negative stereotypes that come along with feminism. Craig Maliborski, principal of St. Ursula Academy, explains, “All-girl schools should be feminist institutions and should be unapologetic in saying so.” However, the feminism all-girl schools promote is the kind that “celebrates the gifts and talents of women, and strives for these things to be recognized equally in our society” (Maliborski) instead of simply men hate. In this unequal and stereotypical view, somehow all-girl schools are deemed easier or not as academically challenging as other institutions. They are referred to as “daycares” or other academically lesser environments. Tricia McHale, a student at Seton High School class of 2018, discusses how, “To some, all-girl schools serve as norming more than a buffer time for young women to prepare for their expected role as a mother or caregiver.” This stereotype is derived from the idea that all-girl schools are just modern versions of a “finishing school” in which girls learn skills like proper manners, table etiquette, and how to take care of a home. This is also where the idea that all-girl schools are not true, academic institutions. Karen White, principal of Seton High School, addresses the stereotype that states, “the work is somehow easier in an all-female setting rather than a co-ed setting.” However, the students and principals of these all-girl schools say otherwise. White explains how she sees her students fighting these stereotypes by, “their involvement in traditionally male classes/organization such as IT, STEAM, engineering, and other academically challenging classes.” McHale reflects on her experience by saying, “I witness such dedication put into the subjects that girls care about. Even when their hard work is belittled, I know that my classmates want to prove their worth as a person and a student.” The final stereotype usually said about all-girl schools is the overwhelming amount of drama a school of over five hundred girls could produce. Emma Vansteenkistie, Mount Notre Dame alum from the class of 2014, discusses how, “People who have never been to an all-girl school think of it as a place full of drama and boy phobia.” She follows this common stereotype by assuring that “These things couldn’t be further from the truth. Going to an all-girl school, there was very little drama”. Current Mount Notre Dame student, senior Mary Angela Guye, closely follows this point saying, “People assume there would be a lot more drama, but from what I have experiences there is so much less drama!! All drama tends to stay out of school.”
Many principals, students, and alums of these all-girl schools claim that they are strong person they are today because of their experience at an all-girl school. All-girl schools create a unique environment in which girls have a place that encourages them to be strong leaders, have confidence in who they are, focus on themselves and their passions, and receive special support from an entire sisterhood of students and staff. High school is a place where adolescents are prepared to be the next driving force in society. Students must learn what interests them and what they are passionate about. They also must learn how to take on leadership roles that could eventually lead to high impactful jobs. At all-girl schools, “girls are the leaders of every club, team, and organization” (Maliborski). This environment of girl empowerment is vital for girls to become strong leaders in adult society. Christine Brookbank, St. Ursula Academy alum and current teacher at Seton High School, discusses how all-girl schools, “propels young women into leadership roles, which is still desperately needed in corporations and government.” Brookbank remembers that “In college I also found myself being fearless – asking questions in class and pursuing leadership opportunities on campus – because we were always encouraged to lead in our high school environment.” This environment of powerful women boosts the confidence of the whole student body. White comments that “being in an all-girl school allows students to be comfortable in their own skins”. One way Seton High School promotes self-confidence is through its positivity club, StrongHer. White explains that through StrongHer, “students can connect with one another and spread positive messages to each other and our school community.” Seton student, Tricia McHale, adds that “StrongHer sets an impeccable example of supporting girls, with positive messages and empowering activates led for students.” Another way that all-girl schools boost self-confidence is through a lack of distractions. Mount Notre Dame alum, Emma Vansteenkiste explains, “Girls tend to act differently when they are around guys and having an environment with none of those distractions allows girls to be their true self…this gives girls a strong self-awareness, which gives girls a high self-esteem…going to an all-girl school gave me a really high self-esteem because I was confident of who I was and who I still am now.” This unique confidence is built upon the focus being on the students. Alums and current students reflect on this and agree that the uniforms, staff attention, and personal growth were all key parts of their confidence and self-development. Both Seton alum, Megan Igel, and current Seton student, Tricia McHale, agree that uniforms created a level playing field among students. Megan Igel explains that “It was so nice to not thin ‘what am I going to wear?’ or ‘who do I need to impress today?’…When I was at school, I could focus on what was really important – learning.” Tricia McHale comments, “Though wearing a uniform can be frustrating at times, all are equalized…the focus is placed on learning, which enables girls to know that they are more than just their appearances.” Therefore, those pesky dress codes do have a method behind the seemingly restrictive madness. In an all-girl school, the focus of the staff is fully on the student. Current Mount Notre Dame student, Mary Guye, comments that “I think that the teachers and students alike can be more upfront and real on what they are saying.” This open speech results in students finding, “good mentors in my [their] teachers” (Guye). This is followed closely by Megan Igel who remembers, “the close bond I had with many of my teachers. They served as really great role models.” All-girl schools in general just have this open environment in which girls can truly grow. Emma Vansteenkiste explains, “Going to an all-girl high school, I was able to focus on just being me and not worry about how I looked or saying something embarrassing. Not worrying about those little things gave me a really strong sense of self.” Finally, all-girl high schools have a special environment in which a student has the full support of the staff as well as a loving sisterhood. Megan Igel identifies that “I knew I could feel free to go out on a limb or say whatever I was thinking because my Seton sisters would have my back.” This support carries on with the students and causes them to be more confident and empowered outside of school (Igel). Tricia McHale comments that all-girl schools have, “such a high level of school pride and enthusiasm for the community surrounding the students…such a caring world is developed at all-girl schools, with each girl looking out for another and helping them to succeed.”
Not only do all-girl schools encourage self-empowerment and self-confidence, but they have many other benefits as well! All-girl schools create a strong learning environment, encourage girls to find their passion, and give them a strong faith foundation. As alums go to college, they appreciate the rigorous coursework they once dreaded saying, “I received such a strong education…and I am definitely still benefitting from that strong foundation as a college student” (Igel). All-girl schools also encourage their students to find what they are passionate about. White notes that the students, “encourage one another to find their passion and talents and develop them.” This encouragement leads to students like Tricia McHale seeing her classmates truly shine every day. McHale explains, “Each and every day I walk through the halls, I witness such a dedication put into the subjects that girls care about.” This encouragement goes beyond the walls of high school as Brookbank, comments that “Being in an all-female environment during those formative years of my life inspired me to pursue my passions”. Another unique benefit that all-girl schools has is the formation of a strong faith. Megan Igel recalls some of her favorite high school memories are days when, “we attended Mass, had prayer services, or Eucharistic Adoration together. It was incredible to get to share in those moments of faith with my classmates”. Faith is such a personal thing that students at all-girl schools get to share in a special way.
Another unique part of attending an all-girl school are the special traditions These intangible staples of all-girl education are as meaningful to students and alums as the physical reminders such as uniform skirts and yearbooks. These traditions are unique to every girl in every different school. Seton alum Megan Igel cherishes, “class retreats, especially Kairos. These days reflecting with my fellow students were really special to me.” These class retreats are meant to strength the bond between fellow students in an intense and spiritual way. Mount Notre Dame students have different traditions. Alum Emma Vansteenkiste fondly recalls the Senior Dance Marathon. This was an event that the seniors stayed up all night together to prepare a ten-minute-long dance routine to perform in front of the school the next day. She remembers, “When I was finally a senior and got to perform with all my classmates in front of the entire school it was so much fun because it was something we were all looking forward to since we were freshman.” Another memory Emma has is the, “Friday pasta bar…there was never any shame for getting a plate full of carbs.” Current MND senior Mary Guye has a different favored tradition. Guye explains, “We do a cheer at the end of each assembly…at pep rallies and sports games to whatever team is playing. It’s just something special that you get to participate in all 3 years and then get to be the center of it senior year.” Another favorite tradition comes from Brookbank who recalls, “singing our school song…at every school mass. All of the students would link shoulder to shoulder and wave back and forth belting the lyrics.” Little events and traditions that are unique to one’s school and community of sisters spans over many generations and thousands of girls who are bonded by their shared experience at their all-girl school.
Attending an all-girl school is a unique experience that greatly defies the stereotypes about them. The realities of these schools are their core values of instilling self-empowerment and self-confidence in their female students. They provide other benefits such as close staff relationships and strong faith communities. They give their students four years-worth of memories and traditions that they won’t soon forget.