Why All Girls?

"Empowering Young Women"
Many parents ask what St. Mary's can offer their daughter that a co-educational school cannot. This is an important question.

One of the primary goals of St. Mary's is to prepare young women for higher education while aiding their development as spiritual, responsible, and ethical members of a democratic society. Since 1859, St. Mary's Academy has fulfilled this mission, and we attribute much of our success to the positive influence of an all-female student body.

Current research confirms our belief that within the structure of a single-sex school young women become better students and more confident about their abilities. Studies suggest that students in all-female schools out score their co-ed counterparts on both the mathematics and verbal sections of the PSAT. Graduates of all-female schools are one and a half times as likely to graduate from college with degrees in math and science and twice as likely to earn doctorates. They are six times more likely to serve on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

A 1985 study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education determined that all-female secondary school students show greater educational and personal gains than young men and young women in co-educational schools. According to the study, young women enrolled in all-female schools:

  • Set higher educational goals.
  • Perceive themselves as being in control of their own choices, values, and quality of life.
  • Hold more positive attitudes about school.
  • Achieve at significantly higher levels in reading and science.
  • Overcome traditional sex-role stereotypes.
  • Show greater acceptance of friends who do well academically.
  • Have fewer absences and discipline problems.
  • Do more homework and watch less television.

Research continues to confirm the benefits of single-sex education. As this body of literature grows so too does the public desire to study and examine the educational opportunities for young women in single-gender institutions.


Gender Bias in the Classroom
A 1992 report from the American Association of University Women suggests that the classroom climate may explain why all-female schools are better educating young women. Researchers report that in co-educational classrooms girls are shortchanged, especially in math and science. Also, boys tend to dominate discussion, monopolize the teachers' time, and receive more affirming comments about their ability. Females who enter school equal in achievement and attitude to male classmates are leaving with lower test scores and diminished dreams.

The 1994 book, Failing at Fairness: How America's School Cheat Girls demonstrates how even good teachers are unaware of gender bias in the classroom. Authors Myra and David Sadker, both education professors at American University in Washington, D.C., conducted research that showed that girls are most often praised in brief exchanges with their teachers, while boys are engaged in conversation. In addition, the Sadkers found that smart boys get the most attention, and the smart girls get the least. This translates into a lack of confidence that follows young women into high school and college.

The bottom line is that gender bias in the classroom inhibits young women from excelling academically. As Dr. Mary Pipher writes in her book, Reviving Ophelia, "Because with boys failure is attributed to external factors and success is attributed to ability, they keep their confidence, even with failure. With girls, it's just the opposite. Because their success is attributed to good luck or hard work and failure to a lack of ability, with every failure, girls' confidence is eroded."

SMA Academics

Pioneering Excellence
At St. Mary's Academy, our students affirm research conclusions that a single-sex environment empowers young women to excel as students and leaders. In major subject areas, our students perform above the national average, with more than 40 percent of our graduates going on to pursue math or science as their field of study in college. An average of 99 percent of St. Mary's Academy graduates attend college.

St. Mary's Academy is designed for success. Our broad based college preparatory curriculum stresses an inclusive approach to knowledge, understanding, human development, and diversity. As a school designed just for women, our curriculum and student life is focused on women's ways of thinking, learning, leading and creating. This makes a difference in helping young women become confident, independent, responsible adults. We believe this is why St. Mary's Academy has been one of Oregon's finest schools for young women since 1859.

Research by Peggy Orenstein, author of Schoolgirls, Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap, produced the following findings:

Sixty percent of elementary school girls and 69 percent of elementary school boys say they are "happy the way I am." By high school, only 29 percent of girls feel that way; the drop for boys is less severe, only to 46 percent.

When asked what they like the most about themselves, almost twice as many boys as girls speak of their talents and abilities. Girls are nearly twice as likely to mention a physical characteristic.

In classes boys are twice as likely to be seen as role models, five times as likely to receive the teacher's attention and 12 times as likely to speak up in class.

In elementary school, 81 percent of girls and 84 percent of boys like math. By high school, 61 percent of girls and 72 percent of boys say they like math.

In co-ed classrooms, girls receive less individual attention and less detailed instruction, are called on less, and are criticized more for intellectual inadequacy than boys.

SMA Community Testimonials

"I naively thought all students my age were getting the kind of excellent education, one-on-one attention and camaraderie I experienced. The gift of a St. Mary's education is always worth its weight in platinum and to have had it was critical to how I developed professionally."

— Erin Couch '79, Board Member

"St. Mary's was so much more than just a high school education to me; it was, and still is, a community, a sense of belonging, and ultimately a family that I know I can always come back to."
Caitlin Bletscher '06

"I was forced into attending St. Mary's Academy and admit that I am no longer bitter, but rather thankful. After a year of strife, St. Mary's and I began a friendship that will last 'til the end of time. Now in college, I look back on my experiences with admiration for what those four years gave me.Teachers and staff focused on the individual, tending to our specific needs and instilling tools that would help us in the future. The care given to each girl and the opportunities placed before us reveal to me that the faculty and staff are there out of selflessness. Without a doubt St. Mary's prepared me for college and for the world."

— Megan Palmer '04

"Spiritual retreats at every grade level offer our young women opportunities for self-discovery and building relationships with God and others."

— Beth Farrell '04

"St. Mary's has provided me the opportunity to excel both athletically and academically. The support I received from my teammates embodies the caring community of the Academy."

— Ashley Salvino '05

"In the TIES program students learn to work in small groups with other high school students planning activities and with younger girls teaching the activities. This program develops within our students leadership and compassion. TIES helps our students understand the need for positive female role models. Connecting with fifth grade students gives our young women the opportunity to share their knowledge and give back to the grade schools."

— Maureen Daschel '77, Chemistry Teacher, TIES Adviser

"Being involved in SMA theatre, I've learned so many exciting things and have gotten to know wonderful, intelligent people. Doing theatre at St. Mary's has encouraged me to take risks and let me truly be myself. Right now I am the happiest I've ever been."

— Justine Blount '06

"One of the advantages of all-female education is definitely all of the opportunities. Student government, clubs and other organizations are run and directed by female students."

— Nicole Kemper '01

"The Gospel message of giving to others resounds in the halls of St. Mary's as students involve themselves in all kinds of service projects and discover the joy of giving."

— Sister Joan Hansen, SNJM, Board Member, Principal 1979-83


"There is little that concerns or interests a father of daughters like seeing that they are exposed to environments that maximize their options as young women. Important too is the process of incrementally increasing their capacity for hard work, letting them experience the satisfaction that comes from creating and achieving, taking personal responsibility, and being open to leadership that serves others. By this road is character built.  At every level, St. Mary's Academy promotes these things. But much of a student's school experience depends on the dynamic vibe of student life. Both our daughters experienced the positive (though challenging) student-driven regard for academic excellence and accomplishment. Why this flourishes in one environment and not in another, I do not know. The culture of St. Mary's seems continually to foster a genuine respect for achievement and involvement.  Today, looking back on our decision as parents (we were the governing body and I recommend that parents not abdicate this role) to send our girls to St. Mary's Academy, we made a decision that served them well. We watched as they quickly embraced SMA life, made solid friends, and excelled within the St. Mary's community. At the end of four quick years, as seasoned and confident learners, they transitioned naturally to the next phase of their life and higher education. While all aspects of a student's intellectual and spiritual nature are nourished at St. Mary's, it's unique charism most importantly helps young women become more fully human."

— Mike Freeman, Parent, Married to Kathy Freeman '69

"An all-female education allows young women to focus on learning in the ways they learn best - cooperative and discussion-based."

— Diana Gordon, 1998 Oregon Biology Teacher of the Year

"Going to St. Mary's Academy separates you from the rest - when you attend SMA, you're making a statement that you respect your education and where it will take you in life."

— Kelly Stempel, Class of 2001

"A St. Mary's education gives young women confidence in their abilities to handle whatever life has in store for them."

— Kathy Mitchell '64, Art Teacher and Parent

"SMA, more than anything, gave me confidence. It supported me as I matured and pushed me toward higher goals. In the end, SMA gave me the foundation I needed to be as independent and self-assured as I am today."

— Theresa Myers '05


SMA Mock Trial Team

Tips for Parents
Raising Confident, Competent Daughters

A job description for parents? Wouldn't we all like to have one! Being a good parent is one of the most difficult (and rewarding) jobs we will ever have. In light of recent research and classroom observations, raising a confident, competent daughter presents a particular set of challenges to parents and educators alike.

It's useful to evaluate your child's classroom experience. You and your daughter should be satisfied with the answers to the following questions:

  • Are girls actively involved, called on and encouraged to participate equally?
  • Do teachers understand and respond to the way girls learn?
  • Are girls on the front lines of leadership?
  • Are there women role models? Women in leadership positions on the faculty? In the administration?
  • Are girls' sports as valued and supported as those for boys?
  • Do girls persist and excel in higher level math and science classes?
  • How well does the school listen to parents and encourage meaningful partnerships?
  • What do other parents of girls say about the school?

Today there are a wide array of private secondary school options, and deciding which school a child will attend is among the most important decisions families face. Every girl is unique, as is every school. The task of parents is to find the right match.

School Website Powered By: SharpSchool © 2004 - 2014 web counter