By Way of the Dinosaur…

Yesterday Saint Scholastica, an all girls Catholic High School on the North Side of Chicago, announced it will be closing its doors at the end of the 2012 school year. Since it would take an overall enrollment of 400 plus and additional $3 Million in donations to keep the school open, the board of directors comprised of 44 nuns with a median age of 77 voted to shut down the school.  Now doesn’t that say a mouthful!

I graduated from an all girls Catholic High School (Maria High School) that also announced this year that it will transition into a charter school within the next two years. When I graduated, we had over 300 girls in my graduating class. Now Maria doesn’t even have 300 girls in the entire school. To add insult to injury the grammar school I attended, St. Joseph and St. Anne, closed its doors many years ago and the building is now owned and operated by the Chicago Public Schools. So other than Northern Illinois University, all of the schools I attended when I was growing up are or will soon be gone.

I never liked going to an all girls Catholic High School at the time I went. I was like many other 13 year old girls, interested in boys and dismayed by the fact that they would no longer be in the classroom with me. My dismay was for all the wrong reasons, but I remember feeling repressed and angry that I would have to spend four years looking only at nuns and other girls. Of course there was the occasional lay faculty, but that was rare at the time. Now it’s rare to see nuns teaching in any classroom. And if they are still around, their median age is in the upper 70’s.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was actually being given a gift that I couldn’t possibly understand until much later in my life. There is a wealth of research out there showing how young girls educated in a same sex environment excel to a much greater degree than those in a mixed gender environments, especially in the teen years. Since there is no pressure to compete with boys, they develop a strong sense of worth and esteem that provides a solid foundation for them when faced with that competition in later years.  I never gave it a second thought when I got into college and especially when I got into the workforce. I never felt at a disadvantage competing with men, it was simply a given. I just knew that I could achieve whatever I set my sights on, and understood what it would take to get there and how to do it. Looking back now, I understand how important those years were and how they prepared me for the successes I had and the challenges I would face. I never doubted in myself and knew I would always find a way even during the darkest times in my life. And even though I could write a whole slue of “war stories” of things that happened during those high school years, I never realized how that educational environment shaped my opinion of myself and my belief in my ability to succeed.

It’s sad that systematically these educational opportunities are going the way of the dinosaur. But then again, maybe so am I.

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4 thoughts on “By Way of the Dinosaur…

  1. I, for one, LOVED going to an all girls high school. No make up, no clothes to pick out, so hairstyle to worry about. No boys, so no girls trying to get their attention. We were taught to be strong and rely on other girls for support. It was pretty uneventful, actually.

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  2. I felt like I had to go to the high school that I went to. My mom graduated from there and my aunt taught there, so I felt I had no choice. I was not as smart as you about the benefits of an all girls school, but I know it now.

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  3. I, too, value my single sex education. It didn’t occur to me until I was *well* into my professional life that anyone would give a second thought to a woman in a leadership role. I guess it was my formative years- of course the president of student council was a woman, the athletes were women, etc. I was extremely fortunate to have a VERY strong and wonderful woman as my first “big boss” when I started my first “real” job (that sort of became an accidental career.) She became a mentor for me in so many ways. It wasn’t until she left the company in my 7th year there that I realized how good I had it. That was a lot of words to say that strong, independent women didn’t seem as rare then as they seem to seem now.
    And as far as the not needing to wear make up or choose clothes- while that was a bonus at the time- I FAULT those same formative years with the fact that I simply do not make that a priority in my “starting the day” process. Now that I probably should be wearing the make up to be “presentable” I still don’t very often…
    Hey Jan- How ’bout that for a future blog post… make up. When I’m putting it on & my three year old wants to wear it- I heard myself telling her she’s so beautiful she doesn’t need make up… So what was I really telling her? That I’m not beautiful & I *do* need it? I changed course. I started telling her that it’s like grown-up art & for special grown up occasions… Like a fancy dress.
    Now my kids ask me if I’m going to “make my lips red” to determine how special an occasion is. 🙂
    I guess I felt like babbling tonight…

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  4. Shelly, what is your email address. Last year I did a blog entitled Doll Up and Get Ahead and it was exactly what you were talking about, the concept of women and the need for make up.

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