The Pros and Cons of a Single-Sex School

Since 1881, Dana Hall has been committed to providing its students with “a unique opportunity to prepare themselves for the challenges and choices they will face as women and citizens of the world.” This is a direct quote from Dana Hall’s mission statement. The benefits and opportunities at Dana Hall include engaging classes, team sports, and community service opportunities, but a key element is missing from Dana Hall: the opposite sex.

Single-sex schools have their pros and cons, all of which are apparent when talking with Dana students. The girls who have grown up in this community know well the pluses of a single sex education; at times, they also notice the negatives of the environment. After interviewing six seniors about what they believe to be the pros and cons of a single sex school, many responses were similar while others proved to be much different than expected.

Research shows that boys and girls have very different learning styles. For this reason, putting them together in the same class may hinder their efforts to learn more significantly than it would add to the diversity of opinions and voices. According to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE), girls see their teacher as a potential “ally;” they want help from their teachers so that they can achieve their goals, while boys see teachers as solely serving the purpose of teaching them a set curriculum.

The NASSPE also found that girls want their classrooms to be, “a safe, comfortable, welcoming place. Forget hard plastic chairs: put in a sofa and some comfortable bean bags,” while boys need a more structured environment that eliminates all distractions from the teacher. At Dana, all the classrooms are furnished with bright colors, art, and other visual pieces that make us feel at home. When entering Ms. Siemon or Ms. Panahi’s rooms you’ll find that beanbags are conveniently located for girls to relax on during class. Ms. Panahi wants her classroom to be inviting. “If students are comfortable, in body and in mind, they will be more comfortable sharing ideas and taking risks.”

The NASSPE has also found that when it comes to math and science classes girls differ from boys in that they need context for what they’re learning. Formulas have shown to satisfy boys but they don’t satisfy girls. Girls want to know how new information will help them in everyday life and when they’re going to use it. “A lot of the things we learn may seem trivial, but when I ask my teachers when in the real world are we going to use this, they always come up with an answer that makes sense.,” says senior Adrianna Russell.

Studying at an all girls’ school comes with many lessons about the power of feminism. For the most part, learning about feminism strengthens girls’ confidence and allows them to identify with an empowered community. However, for some Dana girls the teaching of feminism is overbearing. Julianna Miller explains, “I appreciate feminism but Dana does force it a lot; they also force STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum] on us, too. Dana should encourage girls to become what they want to be and not what society needs them to be, for instance a scientist or mathematician.”

From a teacher’s perspective, feminism holds a more obvious meaning. Ms. Panahi pointed out that “despite all improvements made for women in the last 30 years, women continue to be undervalued, underpaid, and they continue to be underrepresented in politics and business.” Ms. Panahi stressed the importance of realizing that all aspects of Dana are “focused on developing future feminists.” Maybe feminism isn’t the problem, but rather the stigma attached to the word ‘feminism’ itself. “We have to take that word back. Reclaim feminism and redefine it for the 21st century, because ultimately, it’s what we are. If students here are leaving as feminists, why not say it?” wonders Ms. Panahi.

Girls at Dana Hall learn to fully express themselves, in part, because of the School’s relaxed atmosphere. “My favorite thing about Dana is how comfortable I feel in my classes,” says Russell. At her co-ed school, she was too nervous to raise her hand in class because she was afraid she might embarrass herself in front of a boy she liked. Russell has taken advantage of her time at Dana, having participated in many sports, two languages, and four Advanced Placement classes. Russell has proven that the single-sex environment has helped her grow.

Along with feeling comfortable speaking up in classes, the girls enjoy dressing down in sweatpants without worrying about how boys might judge them. “I don’t have to think about what I wear or how I act so I can impress guys,” says Miller. “I can fully focus on studying and learning. The ability to forget about superficial things like what I’m wearing has given me a much greater appreciation for my education.”

Although many girls value feeling relaxed and focused on their education, they are also frustrated by not being able to meet boys through school. When they interact with them at school dances they find it “unsatisfying,” “uncomfortable,” and even, at times, an unsuitable environment for socializing. “Dances don’t count as a real interaction,” says Andrea Ruiz.

“I don’t like not being able to meet guys in a school-related environment,” says Serena Mirchandani. “When I am with guys outside of school they act differently; they are much more shallow.” Mirchandani wishes she could interact with boys in a school environment because you can “build off of each other.” Although many of the girls said they already know boys from other facets of their life, they wish that there were academic ways to connect with boys too.

So would having boys in our classrooms be good or bad?

Miller is uncertain that the assets would outweigh the drawbacks: “Having boys in our classrooms would give us more diversity and having their points of view could be beneficial; but, at the same time it would be distracting.”

Dana Hall has proved to be a nurturing environment for most girls. It is a place where girls can become more confident about who they are inside, freed from superficial burdens, such as clothing and makeup. Although girls feel nurtured and supported, at Dana Hall, Miller wonders if they will know how to handle themselves in a work environment with men? “Dana has helped me grow and become more confident as a person and student, but the real world isn’t single sex and that might prove to be a challenge to girls who are insecure around the opposite sex.”

Miller is right, the world isn’t single sex and this may initially come as a shock to girls graduating from Dana, but Ruiz points out that, “everyone finds their voice at Dana, the problem is whether or not people choose to use their voices once they leave Dana.”

by Marissa Haber

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