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