Single-Sex Schools: A Beneficial Choice For Many
Today's single-sex schools are less about separating boys and girls and more about fostering positive, responsive learning environments.
At one time, parents might have chosen an all-girls or all-boys school in hopes of limiting their children’s interactions with the opposite sex. Today’s parents, however, may have different reasons for selecting a single-sex school for their children.
For many of the families interviewed for this article, it was the learning environment in single-sex schools that was the main reason for their choice.
"The single-sex aspect was secondary but also included a number of benefits that has seemed to work for our son,” Chestnut Hill Academy parent Amy Helstrom said. The academy is an all-boys school.
Some of the benefits most often identified by families and educators include a more responsive approach to learning differences, a greater emphasis on academics and more opportunities for confidence-building.
Maria Rossman, whose daughter is a kindergartner at the all-girls Springside School, feels that single sex education “allows children of either gender to develop to their highest potential.”
Mt. Airy resident and parent Stephanie Clark said her experiences as a student at Philadelphia High School for Girls were liberating.
“Even though it was an artificial environment, I was able to see women in positions of leadership, and I wasn't fearful to become involved and run for leadership positions myself," she said.
Single-sex schools also offer the possibility of a less restrictive learning environment when it comes to peer pressure and gender roles.
Chestnut Hill parent Melissa Haims, a graduate of an all-girls school herself, chose the Springside School for her daughter in part because “it allows your child to be a child for a bit longer.” Haims feels that “in a single-sex environment, the kids are free to explore themselves without the pressure of gender expectations.”
Critics charge that single-sex schools prevent students from learning how to navigate the complex reality of gender differences and societal attitudes. Students, they say, are isolated in these artificially homogenous environments, rather than taught how to manage the sorts of issues that they will eventually face as adults. Both Clark and Haims recalled transitions that were at times difficult once they left their all-girls schools.
Some schools, however, have adopted changes in hopes of ensuring a smoother transition for their graduates. Chestnut Hill Academy and Springside School have formed a partnership that allow upper grade students from both schools with an opportunity to interact with one another. Students share classes, faculty and resources.
The partnership also allows middle school and high school students to interact in other ways. They participate in coed community service learning projects, musical and dramatic productions and trips and go to dances together.
Today’s single-sex schools are attracting families who might not have initially thought they'd consider them. Helstrom called her decision to send her son to a single-sex school very unexpected, but is glad that she and her husband considered the school because it’s been a good fit.
Helstrom stressed, however, that picking a school is a highly personal choice each family should make on their own.
For families considering single-sex education, there are several independent and parochial school options in Philadelphia, including Chestnut Hill Academy and Springside School. There are several other private, single-sex schools in the Main Line communities, such as The Baldwin School, The Agnes Irwin School and The Haverford School.
Some people are surprised to learn that there are also public, single-sex schools in the area. Philadelphia High School for Girls—commonly known as Girls High—has been educating young women in Philadelphia since 1848. The Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School is a more recently created single-sex public school. And although not single-sex schools in the traditional sense, some coed public schools are offering single-sex classrooms and split campuses.