“When I go to school, I am surrounded by people I want to be with and we’re all learning,” says Juliet Caragianis, a Grade 11 student at Elmwood School in Ottawa, Ontario. With a focus on digital learning, including a one-to-one laptop program and the use of interactive SMART Boards in classrooms, this all-girls’ independent school encourages students to feel comfortable and confident with technology. For Juliet, who writes a weekly blog about student life, technology use is just one way that her school defies many of the stereotypes associated with an all-girls’ environment. “Elmwood also strongly promotes its math and science programs,” she says.
Bishops College School - Photograph by Christinne Muschi
Math, science and technology targeted for girl
Generally, the belief is that as girls mature faster than boys, they have the advantage when it comes to language and vocabulary skills, whereas boys’ learning styles give them an edge in the sciences. Traditionally, this is accepted as the reason why the scientific and mathematic fields are overwhelmingly male-dominated. The truth is that girls are just as capable of enjoying, excelling at and pursuing careers in these fields – with the right approach. Many girls’ schools offer math, science and technology programs tailored specifically for their students – not to mention the freedom from gender stereotypes associated with these subjects.
According to Elmwood’s Head of School, Cheryl Boughton, at least 50 percent of the school’s graduates go on to study math and science in university. “Ours is a very enabling environment,” Boughton says. “We provide opportunities for educational risk-taking and we establish supportive learning communities.”
Increased confidence for girls
According to a study released by the University of California, Los Angeles in March 2009, female graduates of single-sex high schools in the United States showed higher levels of academic engagement, SAT scores and confidence in mathematical ability and computer skills than their counterparts at coeducation schools.
The study also showed higher levels of self-confidence among students in girls’ schools, says Meg Milne Moulton, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools. “Most girls’ schools offer against-the-grain learning experiences where students take on challenges that they may not have done on their own—and are encouraged to learn from their mistakes,” Moulton says.
Improved concentration and the freedom to be themselves
Not only are single sex schools praised for their tailored approach to learning, they also eliminate distractions and allow students to be their best. Girls’ schools provide an environment where girls can truly be themselves and grow into self-reliant, confident young women.
In the classroom, students are encouraged to express opinions and ask questions, Juliet says. “When you’re in a coed environment, the boys often try to say funny things and the girls try to sound smart,” she says. “Here, our classes are much more relaxed.”
The concentration in the classroom is also improved at an all-girls school, as students are more able to sit still and focus than boys, a result of more serotonin and oxytocin hormones.
Without boys around, Elmwood students are able to focus on doing well in school and making friends—with much less social drama, says Ella Mar, who has one daughter in Grade 12 at the school and another who recently graduated. But the girls aren’t without male friends, because that’s an important part of being a teenager.
“During the school day the focus is on academics and not on boys, it’s nice not to have that distraction.”
—Hailey Eisen and Sonja Schweiger