Last week the National Coalition of Girls Schools published an article summarizing new research conducted at UCLA to support that “Girls’ School Graduates Have a Clear Edge Over Coeducated Peers” (February, 2019). I devoured the article. The findings are empowering and give girls’ schools many reasons to celebrate. According to this study, graduates from girls’ schools “…are more engaged academically and socially than their coeducated peers” (2019). As the Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion at Dana Hall School, and proud alumna of a girls’ school in Miami, Florida, I was particularly ecstatic and intrigued to read that girls’ school graduates, “Display greater levels of cultural competency,” and “Express stronger community involvement.” In my role, I am especially responsible for preparing our students in these key areas, so I want to affirm each member of my team of incredible colleagues, and each person in the Dana Hall School community as this research is good news.
I dug deeper. Two of the statistically significant differences for girls’ school graduates that intrigued me most are the following:
- “Girls’ school alumnae want to help bridge cultural and racial divides. When asked about their ability to work and live in a diverse society, 75% of girls’ school alumnae value improving their understanding of other countries and cultures and are nearly 10% more likely than coeducated peers to have the goal to help promote racial understanding” (2019).
- “By providing environments that encourage collaboration and understanding, girls’ schools are graduating girls who count their tolerance of others with different beliefs and their ability to work cooperatively with diverse people as strengths” (2019).
This is my jam, bread and butter; some might suggest a full continental breakfast! We are doing something right. Yet, I could not help but notice my skepticism as I was reading. My personal experiences in this field and in our world indicate another trend. While the data suggests we are preparing girls better than some other coeducational academic settings, the issues that bubble up in my office indicate that there are plenty of challenges around racial understanding and tolerance of others. The data accounts for this experience and also gives us room to ask more questions. What about the other 25% of alumnae who did not “value improving their understanding of other countries and cultures”? This 25% has a huge impact on the day-to-day experiences of our students and school community at large.
I turned to our Inclusion and Diversity Statement for clarity. Besides the amazing colleagues and students I met during my interview, this commitment is why I came here: “…we are committed to building an educational program that recognizes and values the many peoples and perspectives of our community and the world. We realize that conflicts may arise in the creation of such a community, but we see these possible conflicts as opportunities for growth, for open and honest communication, and for learning” (https://www.danahall.org/about-us/inclusion-and-diversity-statement).
We do not shy away from conflict at Dana Hall School, and I appreciate that we name it in one of our primary governance documents. An opportunity for me in my role and with my team is to continue to assess how effectively we are navigating this conflict so that it always leads to growth and learning. This is a painful process. However, I am proud that we own this. Any school that claims to be committed to inclusion and belonging that does not own some struggle in the process is overlooking the inevitable challenges in their midst.
We have prioritized specific areas for growth for this school year. This work is underway and there are additional important initiatives that we have yet to take on. And I am confident that we are committed to doing so. Please read Vision 2025. Share thoughts, celebrate our small victories, and get to it… we all have work to do!