Single-gender education: Marian girls and Prep boys should just stay put

Commentary by MelinaPiperis

It was just before dismissal when I stepped into Creighton Prep, gripping my laptop to prove I had reason to be there. Arriving after a long day at Marian, the overload of testosterone came as a shock. As I waited anxiously for my interviewee to arrive, the afternoon bell rang and the halls flooded with students. I noticed several heads turn for a second look upon realizing my presence, as a girl, in an all-boys school. I was greeted by stares of confusion and not-so-subtle attempts to decipher my being there. But what shocked me the most was those who didn’t notice me at all, and how they acted when only surrounded by their fellow boys. 

Senior Network staffer, Melina Piperis smiles outside of Creighton Preparatory School moments before walking in to her interview at the all boys Class A school. Photo by Fiona Gautschi

I am grateful to call myself a Marian girl, but admit this has not always been the case. During my underclassmen years, I often found myself wondering what a co-ed high school experience would be like. I longed for the cliches of high school romance movies, and more opportunities to befriend my male counterparts. For whatever reason, unbeknownst to me, my parents adamantly sent me to an all-girls school. I had no choice but to adapt. In time, I realized the importance of the opportunity I was given. 

Every Marian girl can testify to the obvious perks of an all-girl environment: you can show up to school with unbrushed hair, never bother putting on makeup, and freely speak about those who aren’t allowed in our school halls. Junior Maria McLeay mentioned that she doesn’t care what she looks like at school because she comes here for her education, not to impress anyone. She appreciates that her classmates and teachers have made Marian a non-judgemental environment, and feels comfortable coming to school as she is. But many students are unaware of the academic benefits of all-girl and all-boy schools. 

Single-gender education has proven to benefit students in numerous ways. In the absence of gendered desires to impress, the classroom becomes a more relaxed and welcoming environment. Junior Christina Kleinsmith explained that in an all-girls school, students “are able to speak their minds without fear of others judging [them].” Students generally do not feel pressure to prove expectations about their biological sex, allowing them to behave naturally. Cecilia Urbanski ‘23 noted “this sort of constant performance is draining and can take energy away from more important things.” She believes all-girl education “limits that exhausting element of competition that can occur at our age.” Students are also more likely to take risks in single-gender environments because the fear of embarrassment in front of the opposite sex is eliminated. Single-gender education, in addition, has resulted in higher college acceptance and attendance rates than co-ed schools.

Fr. Tom Merkel, former president of Creighton Prep and current vice president of Creighton, shared that “having one gender allows a school to tailor its educational methodology to that gender.” As a result, he explained, “boys and girls focus on the reason they are in school … to learn.” Since gender stereotypes are significantly less prominent, single-gender schools can place full attention on education and extracurriculars. Merkel believes that “the single-gender environment is ideal for young men and young women.”

Historically, schools around the world only admitted male students, and the United States was no exception. Harvard was founded in 1636 for the purpose of educating men. It was not until 1920 that the school admitted female students, after 100 years of women applying for admission. Schools for women were not founded until the early 19th century, and only offered an education equivalent to that of a modern high school. Given the academic disregard of women throughout American history, it’s clear that women must be empowered in their education, as they are in all-girl environments. But why is all-boy education still valued and practiced in our current society? To better understand this, I drove down 72nd Street to the Jesuit founded Creighton Preparatory School.

Upon entry to the all-boys school, I was bombarded by the rowdiness of Prep’s environment. The commons bustled with energy and booming voices bounced off the walls. Television screens broadcast live sports games that entertained some students. Others competed in heated ping pong tournaments. In the midst of the chaos, I talked to Mr. Thomas Hoover about the culture of the all-boys school.

Hoover said his favorite thing about teaching at Prep is “all of it.” The theology teacher explained that the school’s culture was rooted in tradition, competition and ambition. As for the learning environment, he described it as refreshingly “unfiltered.” In the single-gender environment, Hoover described how students strip down their ego and embrace authenticity, even if it is unpolished. He admires his students’ lack of self consciousness in the single-gender classroom, and their unique way of showing affection to each other. After 31 years of teaching at Creighton Prep, Hoover’s greatest memory is simply “every day.” He is grateful for the opportunity to teach at an all-boys school, and to laugh alongside his students every day. 

After speaking with Hoover, I gained a newfound appreciation for single-gender education. While the all-girls experience is intimately familiar to me, I had never realized the humility that all-boys education fosters. All-girls schools empower young women to rise up– we are taught to be confident, courageous, and comfortable with our capabilities as young women. But all-boy education does something much different. It creates a supportive environment that promotes healthy masculinity, and allows young men to embrace their academic, extracurricular and emotional depth.

Merkel described Creighton Prep as “delightful, fun and rambunctious with a commitment to excellence in all things for the greater glory of God.” The all-boys environment, in his opinion, allowed teachers to “tailor its educational methodology to that gender.” Merkel’s goal during his years at Creighton Prep was to “help each young man understand his worth and potential in the sight of God,” along with developing students’ talents for themselves, “others and the broader community.” Merkel stated that Prep “is expert at understanding young men,” and believes that “the same is true for single-gender girls schools.”

Creighton Prep senior Jacob Dasher enjoys all-boys education for a multitude of reasons, including the smaller learning environment compared to a large co-ed public school. “It allows me to focus better,” he explained, “as well as get more one-on-one help from teachers.” As for the primarily male environment, Dasher has been allowed to focus on his future and himself as a man for others. Creighton Prep has provided him with the opportunity to “see deeper into [himself] and find [his] true passions such as art,” which he plans to study in the future. While he acknowledged backlash towards all-boys schools, Dasher is grateful for the education he has received and feels that Prep has adequately prepared him for college.

Mrs. Katy Salzman, who formerly taught at co-ed and all-boys schools, shared her experiences teaching only girls. After beginning work at Marian, she immediately noticed the joy (and singing) that fills the hallways. Salzman loves teaching young women because they “are not afraid to confront challenging issues and respectfully debate them.” She admires her students’ “openness to learning different positions,” and “willingness to try new things.” In addition, Salzman commented on the supportive nature of the Marian student body, and commended her students’ “tendency to build up one another.” Still, she noted that “teaching is teaching,” and she has found value in every environment she has taught in.

I grew up in a house divided: four kids, two Prep boys and two Marian girls. My siblings and I have spent hours arguing which of the two schools is better, who received more homework, and whether or not Field Day or Christmas in the Cage was more iconic. While this rivalry has led to bickering in the past, it’s our Prep and Marian educations that have brought us closer. My brother Stavros told me at Creighton Prep he was able to get to know himself outside of the female context. Boys were encouraged to embrace their masculinity without catering to the interests of girls. My sister and I experienced a similar phenomenon at Marian. We never worried about living up to male expectations, and were unafraid to explore new opportunities and authentically express ourselves. I am grateful for the foundation of empowerment and independence that all-girl education has instilled in me, and am confident it will reward me in the years to come.

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The Network is the student newspaper of Marian High School, Nebraska's only Class A College-Preparatory School for young women.

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