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All Girls: A Middle School Case Study

Who am I?

Hi! My name is Beatrice Stewart. I’m a member of Ms. Woods’s Gender Studies Class, and I have an interest in gender and education. I went to an all-girls middle school and, while it was an amazing experience, I always had the sense that it drastically changed my worldview in a way that a co-ed middle school wouldn’t have. When I was asked to do a project on gender in my community, I decided I wanted to investigate the degree to which single-sex schooling is beneficial.

Here’s a picture of me on my first day of sixth grade!

Why choose this topic?

Going to an all-girls middle school, I constantly got questioned about my experience. Was there a ton of drama? Did I miss boys? Did I even know how to talk to guys if I didn’t go to school with them? For my project, I decided to answer these questions and see what kinds of generalizations I could draw about single-gender schooling, particularly for middle school girls.

To do this, I collected primary source evidence and secondary source evidence. For my primary source evidence, I conducted a series of interviews with three girls who went to my middle school and then went on to co-ed high schools about how going to an all-girls school affected them both educationally and socially. For my secondary source evidence, I read five articles about single-gender schooling and used them to inform my research.


What does science think?

There is a general consensus in pedagogical theory that single-gender schooling can be beneficial for most students. In her book, “Same, Different, Equal: Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling”, Rosemary Salomone writes “Many students in single-sex classes report feeling more comfortable raising their hands and expressing uncertainty regarding a lesson or topic without fear of embarrassment or teasing from the opposite sex.” This makes sense, considering the complicated gender politics of adolescence, as we’ll see in the interviews. Most studies conclude that students felt fewer constrictions of gender roles when in a single-gender environment.

However, for my project, I decided to focus specifically on how single-gender schools affect girls in middle school, since my own single-gender middle school experience has had a significant impact on my life. In “Benefits beyond achievement? A comparison of academic attitudes and school satisfaction for adolescent girls in single gender and coeducational classrooms”, Laura C. Hart examines this exact question. She concludes that, while single-gender schooling may not be the right choice for all middle-school girls, it’s a well-proven way to build girls’ self-confidence educationally and socially through the fragile years of middle school. In one study, researchers concluded that girls who went to a single-gender school were more likely to attend a 4-year college than girls who attended a co-ed school.

Overall, going into my interviews knowing that there was a lot of empirical support for all-girls middle schools really helped me frame my questions.


What do students think?

I interviewed three friends of mine from my all-girls middle school. Each of them went on to different co-ed high schools. I asked them about their experiences transitioning to co-ed environments as well as at all-girls middle schools, and their thoughts on single-gender schooling as a whole.


My first interviewee’s name was Olivia. She went to her local co-ed public high school for 9th grade after middle school and then transferred to a co-ed private school for 10th grade. She comes from a family that is majority female.

 

 

 

 

Olivia, 2012

 

 

 

Olivia, 2016

 

Olivia’s Answers:

What was different from your middle school experience as opposed to your friends who went to co-ed schools?

There were definitely fewer guys and at least my school seemed a lot more chill than my peers. People regularly wore sweats to school (I personally didn’t). There were definitely fewer romantic relationships at my school and I did feel a bit like I was missing out on the awkward and exciting middle school relationships.

To what extent did you interact with boys during your time at an all-girls school?

I almost entirely avoided guys in middle school. I had one guy friend and knew another vaguely. Both of these guys were family friends as all my friends were from my single gendered soccer team or middle school.

What changed in your transition to high school?

I didn’t interact with guys that much in my first year of high school because I didn’t do much outside of school. I talked to guys casually and had guys in my friend group in one semester but I wasn’t close with any guys romantically or platonically. This year I have a few close guy friends. Also, note that I have never dated anyone (girl or guy).

Reflect on your attitude towards boys throughout your life.

I think I was generally pretty indifferent towards [boys] for most of my life. I did have an extreme anti-boy phase in 2-3 grade.

What changed in your transition to high school?

My interactions with boys were definitely more plentiful when I reached high school. Freshman year I found them slightly annoying as a whole but found that often they were more willing to talk off topic in class with me. Some guys talked uncomfortably about watching porn and their dick size around me which I didn’t like and sort of proved to me the stereotype that guys talk a lot more openly about sexual things. This year I feel like a lot of boys seem to want to offend people which seems stupid and it’s also annoying.

In general, what are your thoughts on single-gender schools?

I think single gendered all girls school was fantastic.


My second interviewee was named Mira. After middle school, she went to her local co-ed public school. She comes from a family fairly evenly split between men and women.

 

 

Mira, 2012

 

 

Mira, 2017

 

Mira’s Answers:

Briefly, describe your middle school experience.

I feel I had a very good middle school experience. I am grateful to have been lucky enough to be in a school where I was given opportunities to grow and find myself. I think that going to an all-girls middle school helped me become a more confident person, as being surrounded by the same girls for three years taught me valuable lessons, such as the consequences of a judgemental attitude and the importance of supportive relationships.

What was different from your middle school experience as opposed to your friends who went to co-ed schools?

While I believe that everyone needs a different environment to allow them to grow and harness their skills, I have noticed differences between me and my friends that went to co-ed middle schools. One of these differences regards their attitude towards other girls. I feel that going to an all-girls middle school gave me a lot of pride in being a girl, and taught me to really appreciate the concept of sisterhood. While I do have many friends that share these beliefs, I think that co-ed middle schools do not put the same kind of emphasis on “girl power.”

Describe how you participated in class in middle school. (How frequently you raised your hand, spoke up, collaborated in group projects, etc.)

In middle school, I participated a lot in class. I believe that this gave me a lot of confidence, as I don’t feel fear to participate in my high school classes–something I see many of my peers struggling with.

To what extent did you interact with boys during your time at an all-girls school?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really interact with boys that often in middle school. I didn’t have that many opportunities to, as most of my outside of school activities were all-girls. This may have impacted the relationships I have with boys in high school, as most of my friends are girls. Going to an all girls school gave me an understanding, a confidence in my interactions with girls, but impaired my ability to see boys in the same way. I am hoping that, in my next four years of high school, my relationships with boys will improve. It’s not that I don’t get along well with boys or that I can’t talk to them, but I think some part of me has been trained to prefer girls to guys, to be more comfortable with people of the same sex. Luckily, I have had more than enough opportunities to interact with boys in the past to years as a high schooler, and believe that I will be able to reach a mentality in which I am equally comfortable with guys as I am with girls.

What changed in your transition to high school?

When I came to high school, I found it harder to be the same person I was in an all-girls environment. I found people to be more judgemental, found it harder to get to know people in the same way I could in my middle school. This, however, may have been partially due to the difference in the size of the schools.

In general, what are your thoughts on single-gender schools?

I am extremely happy that I was given the opportunity to go to an all-girls school, as I believe it gave me an environment in which I could harness my strengths and learn about myself as a person.


My third interviewee was named Celia. She came from a family that was majority female. After middle school, she went to a small co-ed private high school.

 

 

Celia, 2013 (Left)

 

 

Celia, 2016

 

Celia’s Answers:

Briefly, describe your middle school experience

I really enjoyed my middle school experience. Going to an all-girls school definitely was the right choice for me. All girls schools, in my experience, really serve as a comfortable learning and social environment to get used to more stress and more homework and prepare for high school.

What was different from your middle school experience as opposed to your friends who went to co-ed schools?

I think a lot of girls who go to coed schools definitely have a harder time standing up for themselves, talking in class, and just understanding how to be a leader in the classroom. My experience was largely spent learning how to lead in class and how to get my ideas heard.

Describe how you participated in class in middle school. (How frequently you raised your hand, spoke up, collaborated in group projects, etc.)

I definitely worked very hard in class and did not feel uncomfortable or guilty about raising my hand or talking a lot. That was definitely still a step up step down dynamic, but in high school I I often find myself taking the road of the step down rather than the step up.

To what extent did you interact with boys during your time at an all-girls school?

I basically talked to no boys in middle school and I hardly knew any.

What changed in your transition to high school?

Boys in high school definitely took some getting used to, not only was it going to a larger school but it was co-ed. This was a transition just because it’s fast getting used to things I had to do. I had to observe how the social dynamic in class was with boys, and I had to remind myself that they’re human beings too and I could be friends with them.

Reflect on your attitude towards boys throughout your life.

I don’t really have an opinion on boys, I think that they sometimes dominate class discussions and are oblivious to simple things they say that really impact your learning in a class. But I’ve definitely met quite a few boys were very nice in high school and in my childhood.

How did your interactions with boys change when you reached high school?

I mean, I’ve been around them a lot more in high school. I think I definitely prefer the all-girls school experience, but it’s good to go to a coed school just so you prepare yourself for college and the rest of your life. It’s important to develop skills that teach you how to work with being talked over or overshadowed in a classroom environment.

In general, what are your thoughts on single-gender schools?

I love them! I think that they are a very good way to teach girls good learning habits before they go out into the co-ed world.


What can I conclude?

All-girls middle schools are an important way for a lot of girls to gain self-confidence and be partially protected from harmful pressures and gender roles during their development. Below are some ways I thought of to keep the discussion going and keep all-girls schools active and supported. I’d like to collect more data to further support or refute my claims, and I also am super interested to hear the experiences of everyone reading this. Please take a moment to contribute to the Padlet below by clicking the pink plus sign! I would really appreciate it.


What do you think? Post a note, photo, story, experience, or thought on the Padlet below.

Works Cited

Park, Hyunjoon, Jere R. Behrman, and Jaesung Choi. 2012. “Causal Effects Of Single-Sex Schools On College Entrance Exams And College Attendance: Random Assignment In Seoul High Schools”. Demography 50 (2): 447-469. Springer Nature. doi:10.1007/s13524-012-0157-1.

Hart, Laura C. 2015. “BENEFITS BEYOND ACHIEVEMENT? A Comparison Of Academic Attitudes And School Satisfaction For Adolescent Girls In Single-Gender And Coeducational Classrooms”. Middle Grades Research Journal 10 (2): 33. https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3851353921/benefits-beyond-achievement-a-comparison-of-academic.

Salomone, Rosemary C. 2008. “Same, Different, Equal”. 1st ed. Yale University Press.

Hubbard, Lea, and Amanda Datnow. “Do Single-Sex Schools Improve the Education of Low-Income and Minority Students? An Investigation of California’s Public Single-Gender Academies.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 2, 2005, pp. 115–131., www.jstor.org/stable/3651381 .

Hutchison, Kay Bailey. “The Lesson of Single-Sex Public Education: Both Successful and Constitutional.” American University Law Review 50, no.5 (2001): 1075-1082.

Mael, Fred A. “Single-sex and coeducational schooling: Relationships to socioemotional and academic development.” Review of educational research 68.2 (1998): 101-129.

Meyer, Peter. “Learning separately: the case for single-sex schools.” Education Next, vol. 8, no. 1, 2008, p. 10+. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=hill45276&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA172292 774&asid=77d0b9ac476cad5f0f22d0e3bd35bb5f. Accessed 27 Mar. 2017.

 

 

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COMMENTS: 11
  1. April 29, 2017 by Sode

    Beatrice what you are doing with your talent and passsion is so amazing. You really inspire others around you. I love this project idea (as well as all the interviews). I expect more amazing things to come. I agree with everything that all the interviewers said about going to an all girls school, but I think the impact was comepletley positive. I find boys very disruptive in the middle school years.

    • April 29, 2017 by Beatrice S

      Thank you so much!

  2. April 29, 2017 by Lily

    This is so cool!! I love it.

    • April 29, 2017 by Beatrice S

      Thanks!

  3. April 29, 2017 by Celia

    This turned out to be so so awesome!! So glad to be a part of it and it is all so so true!!

    • April 29, 2017 by Beatrice S

      Aw thank you love

  4. April 29, 2017 by Lauren

    This project is sooooo cool. Great job!!!

  5. April 29, 2017 by Maria Resnick

    Hi Beatrice! This is terrific – I’m so happy for you to have had the opportunity to attend an all-girls middle school. I went to an all girls Catholic International School in Tokyo, Japan from KG to 12th grade. The camaraderie I developed with my schoolmates were the foundation of my personal development. The self esteem and self confidence I have today are rooted in the years I spent in a school where we supported one another. It helped us all to believe that we could do anything we set our minds to. We helped each other through the years without our gender “getting in the way”. We interacted with the boys in our brother school across town so it’s not as if we were completely isolated from boys in a school setting. We shared time at sporting events, for arts/music, and dances too. It was no different than what would be going on in any coed middle school (awkward 😆).
    Thank you for sharing your project. I sincerely enjoyed it. What an amazing job! Looking forward to hearing about the great things you will accomplish in the future.

  6. April 30, 2017 by Bingpu Z

    I find it fascinating that all girl schools would help girls to gain more confidence in middle school! I myself is going to attend a all girl college next year and I am very excited. I love all of your examples since they really bring your page to life!

  7. April 30, 2017 by Ada

    This is so interesting! I 100% agree with you because I went to a co-ed middle school and high school now and I definitely feel like that made an impact on me as a person, and it was not really a positive impact. ( middle school boys suck :((( )

  8. May 03, 2017 by Yasmin

    I really enjoyed your project! It was interesting to see all of the girl’s responses. A really close friend of mine transitioned from a co-ed school to an all girls school, and it seems like she enjoys it a lot more than the co-ed. Although there aren’t guys at her school, it is easy to communicate with them through mutual friends! Great job.

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