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.