June 15, 2024


All-girls faculties are on the rebound post-pandemic, with enrollment numbers trending up and alternatives for innovation round each nook.

Situated in Greenfield, Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty is a boarding and day faculty for women in grades 7–12. Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty/Handout

The sudden closure of Mount Alvernia Excessive Faculty final spring made waves amongst Massachusetts’ small-but-mighty contingent of all-girls faculties, sparking controversy as information unfold that the Franciscan sisters who owned the Newton property would quickly be promoting.

With the brand new faculty 12 months underway, nevertheless, it’s now clear that Mount Alvernia’s closure wasn’t a herald of uncertainty for all-girls schooling in Massachusetts. Actually, a number of unbiased faculty leaders who spoke with Boston.com have been optimistic as they shared their post-pandemic outlook, discussing rising enrollment tendencies and highlighting alternatives for innovation round each nook.

“The pandemic was troublesome for a lot of households — they didn’t wish to take into consideration essentially one thing new,” mentioned Molly Martins, founder and president of The Academy at Penguin Corridor in Wenham. “And now, as we emerge from that, I believe they’re actually fascinated by what’s the greatest academic alternative for his or her daughters at the moment.”

Based on Martins, the variety of switch college students greater than doubled final 12 months at Penguin Corridor, an all-girls highschool with a scholar physique of about 120. After numbers “flattened” throughout the top of COVID-19, she mentioned the college is now seeing an uptick in enrollment, functions, and engagement from potential households. 

“There’s slightly little bit of an anomaly in there,” she mentioned of the pandemic years. “The numbers have been completely trending as we anticipated them to, ranging from after we opened in 2016. And with the onset of the pandemic in 2020, one of many points for us was the lack to have folks on our campus. And it’s actually essential for a brand new faculty for folks to expertise this system, expertise the ability, expertise all of what we have now to supply.”

Amongst faculties that take each day and boarding college students, as Penguin Corridor started doing in 2021, COVID-era restrictions introduced noticeable adjustments in enrollment demographics. 

“The pandemic did shift issues, particularly for our home boarding and worldwide boarding inhabitants,” mentioned Angela Brown, assistant head for admission and strategic initiatives at Wellesley’s Dana Corridor Faculty, which has 462 college students throughout grades 5-12. “There have been a number of households who have been pushing pause as a result of they needed to, or as a result of their international locations have been making them, the place journey to the U.S. was difficult or journey forwards and backwards from their dwelling international locations was difficult.”

In Greenfield, Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty reported a dip in boarding numbers that coincided with progress within the inhabitants of day college students. 

“Through the pandemic, that boarding inhabitants that was coming in from abroad actually dried up,” Head of Faculty Laurie Lambert mentioned. “And it’s beginning to trickle again, which is nice.” 

Stoneleigh-Burnham is at about 100 college students now in grades 7-12, and college leaders mentioned they hope to construct again as much as round 130 within the coming 12 months. 

Head coach Erin Calamari-Kirwan directs the Winsor Faculty area hockey staff in 2022. – Barry Chin/Boston Globe Workers, File

These insights are in step with latest tendencies throughout the business: The Nationwide Affiliation of Impartial Faculties discovered that median enrollment at single-sex faculties improved within the 2021-22 and 2022-23 tutorial years, however didn’t attain pre-pandemic ranges. Boys’ faculties noticed a decline of 4%, in comparison with a 1% decline in ladies’ faculties, in response to NAIS. The tendencies additionally diversified by geographic area and college measurement and kind. 

The Winsor Faculty in Boston’s Mission Hill, for instance, mentioned it maintains waitlists yearly and has seen regular enrollment. Serving college students in fifth by way of twelfth grade, the day faculty goals for about 475 college students yearly, in response to Head of Faculty Sarah Pelmas.

“The pandemic did assist to extend our applicant pool for a number of years, because it did for many unbiased faculties throughout the nation,” Pelmas mentioned in an e-mail interview. “Our functions initially went up by roughly 30%; they’ve now settled some, although we’re nonetheless trending 10-20% greater than our five-year historic common at our totally different entry factors.”

‘They’re by no means dimming their lights’

So, why an all-girls faculty? Based on Brown at Dana Corridor, it is dependent upon whom you ask.

“In some ways, there aren’t variations between a single-gender faculty and a co-ed faculty,” she mentioned. “Individuals are inclined to assume {that a} single-gender faculty might not be as rigorous as a co-ed faculty, or could not provide as many programs, or sports activities, or co-curricular actions, and that simply merely isn’t true.”

Having labored in each co-ed and single-gender establishments, Brown mentioned, “I can let you know within the co-ed establishments through which I’ve labored, there’s a magical time round fifth, sixth grade the place you begin to see younger girls dim their gentle in some specific approach, and there’s a number of the explanation why that occurs.”

She continued: “In a single-gender establishment, they’re by no means dimming their lights, they’re by no means turning down their quantity.”

Pelmas shared comparable observations from the frontlines of all-girls schooling, whilst she acknowledged that there’s all kinds of colleges on the market and a spot like Winsor might not be proper for everybody. 

The again view of The Academy at Penguin Corridor, an unbiased all-girls highschool opened in Wenham in 2016. – Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe, File

“What a ladies’ faculty presents is the chance to be surrounded by ladies’ and ladies’s management, to internalize the truth that every little thing could be led by a girl as a result of all they see round them is girls’s management,” she mentioned. “There’s a actual sisterhood that exists in ladies’ faculties that’s arduous to search out elsewhere in the identical approach, and for a lot of college students that may be a game-changer.”

Jane Bell, a Stoneleigh-Burnham alumna turned college member, mentioned there’s a set core of values that unites college students there, no matter their favourite class or the sports activities they play. 

“They’re caring, compassionate. They’re all the time the one which’s going to offer you a high-five on the soccer area. They’re all the time the one which’s going to offer you that pep discuss in case you want it,” Bell mentioned. “And I believe each second the place we collect at college, I really feel that, and it feels so particular to be right here.”

Trying forward

In the case of assembly college students the place they’re at, leaders at each Stoneleigh-Burnham and Penguin Corridor cited the necessity for adaptability. 

“We’re wanting on the entire scholar; we’re taking a look at how college students be taught as people, what their wants are,” Lambert mentioned. “We’re additionally very nimble as a result of we’re small, and we are able to adapt to the wants of our scholar physique and the wants of our group.” 

She cited, for instance, the college’s flexibility in serving to one scholar shift her coursework round and compete within the Vex Robotics World Championship in Texas final spring. 

Penguin Corridor, which opened its doorways in 2016, equally counts flexibility as a plus. 

“One of many actual advantages that we expertise is the truth that we’re newer, so we aren’t sure by, ‘We’ve all the time achieved it that approach,’” Martins mentioned. “We’re not making an attempt to undo both a curriculum or a approach of doing one thing that has been in place for a lot of, a few years or a long time in some circumstances. I believe we’re all the time wanting ahead.”

A number of the extra established faculties are additionally wanting forward — take Winsor, established in 1886. 

“Winsor, like all unbiased faculties, tends so as to add with out ever subtracting, so we have now an unlimited variety of alternatives for college kids,” Pelmas mentioned. 

On one degree, she mentioned, “we wish to have dozens of packages, and we additionally wish to present a radical and rigorous middle- and high-school schooling, one which by no means closes a door for a scholar, in order that they will arrive at school and actually start to dive into their specialities.”

These alternatives can even depend upon the place the college is positioned; as an city faculty, for instance, Winsor boasts shut proximity to all of the cultural, inventive, and academic experiences Boston has to supply. Out in Western Mass., in the meantime, many younger girls at Stoneleigh-Burnham hone their equestrian expertise — Lambert estimates that wherever from 30-40% of the college’s college students trip in a given 12 months. 

“We really don’t really feel that we’re in competitors with different faculties, as a result of we have now such a particular program,” she mentioned. “We’re who we’re, and whereas we would replace the way in which we have a look at sure elements of the expertise as time goes on — as a result of we all the time wish to be taking a look at what the scholars want for his or her futures, and that’s altering, notably popping out of the pandemic — the core of who we’re is an incredible factor, and we don’t have to deviate from that.”

Equestrian packages are among the many notable choices at Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty in Greenfield; an estimated 30-40% of scholars trip every year. – Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty/Handout

Nonetheless, Stoneleigh-Burnham and different all-girls faculties throughout Massachusetts are discovering new methods to innovate and develop their footprint, each bodily and programmatically.

At Penguin Corridor, Martins mentioned the following piece of the puzzle might be an enlargement of the athletics program. Based on Pelmas, Winsor’s campus grasp plan prioritizes renovating the science labs, however faculty leaders are additionally protecting an eye fixed out for brand new athletic amenities. 

Stoneleigh-Burnham leaders touted the college’s Wingspan Program, which connects college students with experiential and project-based studying alternatives. And lately, Dana Corridor launched a serious classroom constructing challenge and received a grant from the Edward E. Ford Basis to create a knowledge science program.

Like different faculty leaders, Brown touched on a recurring theme in all-girls schooling: The will to offer younger girls an academically formidable schooling within the face of an ever-changing world. 

“And what was academically formidable in 1881 [when Dana Hall was founded] may be very totally different than what’s formidable in 2023,” she acknowledged. “However what stays the identical is that the college is all the time dedicated to offering that sort of surroundings, and so we innovate as time goes on, as a result of we wish to give our college students the perfect.”