Welcome (back) to another year at St. Mary's Academy. It was such a pleasure to have you at our annual Back to School Night—72% of our families were able to attend, which is testament to your commitment to support your daughters. During my welcome address, I mentioned a few of the texts we are working with as a faculty, and I wanted to mention one more. This summer, I attended the National Coalition of Girls' Schools annual conference in Washington, D.C. where Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl and Odd Girl Out, discussed her new book titled Enough as She Is. In the introduction, Simmons writes about a high school junior who "refreshes her school's online grading system, first after school, then after sports practice, then after dinner, before bed and then again she wakes up, to calculate her GPA down to the minute." This may sound strikingly familiar to many of us at SMA.
Simmons notes that in the early 2000s, Dr. Donna Lisker, former Dean of Students at Duke University, described a troubling trend for female students, a phenomenon where "young women felt pressure not only to succeed academically, but be physically fit, fashionably dressed, perfectly coiffed with the right group of friends and summer job to say nothing of partying and hooking up after hours—all without visible effort." One of Dr. Lisker's students called it a "drive for effortless perfection." This "cult of effortless perfection" has made its way to high school—as if perfectionism alone isn't tragic enough.
Simmons cautions that we are "raising a generation of girls who may look exceptional on paper but are often anxious and overwhelmed in life—who feel that no matter how hard they try, they will never be smart enough, successful enough, well liked enough, witty enough online, or sexy enough."
Despite these discouraging statistics and the reality parents may face raising young women, there are ongoing efforts we are making at St. Mary's Academy to support your daughters as they navigate these challenges. First is the opening of the Academic Support Center (previously the Learning Center) that is refocused to inspire, challenge, and empower students by providing academic and supportive services necessary for their success at St. Mary's Academy and beyond. If students are to succeed, they must be actively involved in their learning, believe in themselves, and appreciate the links between what they learn today and who they will become tomorrow.
Another such strategy comes from Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset. As I mentioned at Back to School Night, Dr. Dweck encourages parents to model the growth mindset ourselves, and to reveal our mistakes and the profound learning that takes place from these mistakes. In the case of effortless perfectionism, modeling is, indeed, the most challenging and vital element of change. According to Simmons, "to model appropriate levels of vulnerability; failure; recalibration; and collaboration is to re-frame girls' perceptions of what makes women 'successful'." Aligned with the Growth Mindset, Simmons writes that, "Process praise tells girls that setbacks are a meaningful part of any learning process." In fact, effortless perfection is just about as opposite of the growth mindset as you can find on the continuum. It eliminates grit and resilience, and the notion that we need to lean into our failures.
Finally, we can model self-care while finding moments of joy every day. While the start of any school year comes with stress and adjustment, at St. Mary's Academy we've also ensured that we are having fun, celebrating, and nurturing the whole self. In fact, during last week's Spirit Week, we witnessed an unprecedented level of enthusiasm among our girls. The hallways were filled with laughter and with students enjoying comradery with friends while showing off their school spirit through costumes and cheers.
Already this year our girls have participated in community service days away from school through Frosh Immersion and Senior Hands Full of Heart, where we take a break from academics and focus on the service and social justice components of our mission. Through these events our students have an opportunity to share their faith, contribute to the community around us, and live out the values of a Catholic school. We've also celebrated one of our most treasured school traditions with the Father-Daughter Dinner Dance, a great opportunity for finding joy and creating memories.
As we move forward into this school year, we look forward to partnering together to foster young women who are curious, balanced, and healthy life-long learners—young women who are "enough as they are."