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Brophy, Xavier alumni, students weigh effects of single-sex education

By Lauren D’Souza XCP ’14 & Julian De Ocampo ’13

Photo illustration by Kevin Cabano ’12 - How do members of the opposite sex affect education? Studies and student opinions vary.

From morning until the ring of the last bell, Brophy is almost like any other public high school in the most basic essence.

While the nuances might be different, Brophy is, on the surface level, ultimately a normal prep school where students arrive each day to learn the skills they need to prepare them for higher education and beyond.

And the school is equipped with everything to make sure that happens: the latest technology, competent faculty, well-furnished classrooms and an always-eager student body.

The only thing missing? Girls.

Save for the occasional female either passing through campus or attending one of several co-ed classes, it’s almost always readily apparent that Brophy remains largely an all-male institution during the day.

But at 2:45 pm, the school undergoes a daily transformation that turns everything on its head.

As boys stream out of their classes, girls from Xavier College Prep stream onto the campus, nearly always clad in their signature plaid skirts and white polos.

Within 10 minutes of dismissal, Brophy – which has the distinction of being the only all-male secondary institution in the state that is neither a special education school nor a juvenile detention center – essentially turns into a co-ed environment.

Dozens upon dozens of Xavier students make the daily exodus away from their female-only campus with the hopes of meeting male friends.

In the same respect, Xavier is a traditional Catholic high school. With its strict uniform guidelines, rigorous curriculum and spiritual activities, Xavier is a typical Catholic preparatory school.

Xavier, like Brophy, also prides itself on being the only all-female high school in the state. Similarly, the final bell at 2:45 marks the time when boys from the neighboring all-male school come flooding into Xavier’s campus.

Studies show negative effects

Of course, the idea of single-sex schools is nothing new – secondary and higher education institutions have historically used both the co-education and single-sex education models for centuries.

Studies have been conducted on the effects that single-sex environments can have on the development of teenagers of both genders, including one conducted by London University’s Institute for Education that revealed single-sex schools showed negative effects for boys and positive effects for girls.

According to The Guardian UK, boys who attended all-male institutions in the late ’50s and early ’60s were significantly more prone to depression and divorce.

Meanwhile, women who attended all-female institutions often excelled academically while still maintaining the same martial success rate as their co-ed companions.

But what do Brophy and Xavier students and faculty think of this debate?

Male-female interaction

When it came to male-female interaction, few students and alumni had complaints.
“The separation from girls during the day doesn’t really affect my relationships with the opposite sex,” said Ian Dominguez ’12. “Sure I can’t go to class with them, but Brophy offers so many social opportunities that it’s hard not to meet girls.”

Dominguez pointed to Brophy’s retreat program as being one of the draws of a single-sex school, saying “retreats like Kairos wouldn’t be as profound if they were co-ed.”

Graduates from earlier generations had even less qualms.

“For me, Xavier was co-ed,” said Xavier graduate Patricia Ramirez-Keough ’81.

Ramirez-Keough said when she attended Xavier, math and science classes were co-ed, granting her a higher level of interaction with the opposite sex.

Brophy English teacher Mr. Scott Middlemist ’88 agreed, saying he remembers an ample amount of opportunities to interact with the opposite sex.

But there are also those who see faults in a single-sex environment. Alex Gross ’13 explained men’s perceptions of girls are affected when daily interaction is restricted.

“When girls are removed from the equation almost totally, it’s not hard to idealize, objectify (and) even stereotype them,” Gross said. “Brophy prides itself in being a brotherhood of sorts, with which I agree with completely, but bonding solely with guys can make it hard to build strong relationships with girls.”

Xavier student Anne Meyers ’13 echoed these thoughts, joking, “I have plenty of interaction with the other gender. Well, I mean, both of my dogs are boys, which kind of counts. Of course going to a single-sex school has hindered my interaction with boys, but that’s mostly because I don’t actively pursue relationships with them.”

Educational value?

Researchers seem to land on the same question when studying single-sex schools: Is there a need for single-sex schools in the present time?

The idea of a school in which males and females are taught separately has naturally given rise to a debate between same-sex and co-ed education advocates over the intent and effects of this differential treatment.

Lawyer Wendy Kaminer called for the end of single-sex schools in an April 1998 essay entitled “The Trouble With Single-Sex Schools” published in The Atlantic, where she wrote, “A hundred and fifty years ago, when women were excluded from men’s academies, women’s academies did indeed represent affirmative action. Today a return to separate single-sex schools may hasten the revival of separate gender roles. Only as the sexes have become less separate have women become more free.”

However, attendees of single-sex schools seem to agree that there remains a need for developing boys and girls in separate environments.

Mr. Matt Williams ’07, currently a psychology teacher at Brophy and a member of the Alumni Service Corps, argued that “Brophy cultivates a unique culture of brotherhood. In a co-ed school, men would not form the strong bonds that they do when they interact only with each other.”

Ramirez-Keough said women are more likely to reach their full potential in all-female environments, especially in the fields of math and science.

She said schools such as Xavier build confidence, leadership skills and self-esteem, showing a woman that she is “more than just what she looks like.”

This opinion is supported by numerous studies, including one conducted by the American Association of Women entitled “How Co-ed Schools Shortchange Girls.”

The study reflected that girls and boys enter first grade with an approximately equal intellectual ability. However, as years pass, females fall farther and farther behind the male average in test scores.

Upon graduating high school in a co-ed environment, female test scores are 26 percent lower than male test scores across the board, according to a November 2010 New York Times article.

In key areas such as higher-level mathematics, technology, government and economics, female test scores are even lower, dipping as low as 42 percent.

When split into single-sex classes, the test scores for both genders increased dramatically. Not only were women more proficient, but male test scores rose by 30 percent.

Xavier student Meyers offered two opinions on the matter: She said these schools “create a very, very false stigma that women and men aren’t on the same ‘level’ intellectually,” but also noted that she finds all-female schools to be very focused and comforting environments for women.

Affecting career choices

Interestingly, The Guardian UK also reports that studies reveal a relationship between career choices and single-sex education.

Students who received a single-sex education were more likely to go into a field of study not typically associated with their gender norms. For males, this meant careers in the humanities and arts; for females, this meant a career in science and math.

This claim is supported by Ramirez-Keough’s choice to become an engineer. She stated she “would have been lost in a co-ed school,” and that her career decisions were definitely guided by her single-sex education.

“In my public school, it wasn’t cool to be a smart girl.  I was quiet and easily intimidated.” Ramirez-Keough said. “Being with all girls, wearing a uniform, I didn’t have anything to distract me or intimidate me.”

Mr. Middlemist also agreed that his education influenced his decision to become a teacher, but pointed out that it was because of his positive experience at Brophy more than anything else.

But students and alumni of more recent years said they believe the single-sex environment didn’t quite play as strong a part in their career decisions.

“For me, choosing a career was always figuring out what I was good at and how my skills were needed in the world,” Mr. Williams said. “Those issues seem to transcend typical questions of gender.”

Current students backed Mr. Williams’s opinion, a possible indication that students of both genders seem to have their careers and passions decided on at an early age, regardless of which type of education they receive.

“I want to be a corporate attorney, but I also want to write fantasy/horror novels on the side,” Meyers said. “Going to a single-sex school doesn’t really influence that decision because I’ve been dead-set on law for as long as I can remember.”

However, Meyers did note that the media “feeds women the idea that their aim is to be a gorgeous, stupid shell of a person,” something she said Xavier helps women to overcome.

Meyers also added that despite the debate over the merits of single-sex schooling, the decision to attend a single-sex institution is one consciously chosen by those who wish to attend them.

“Whether or not you want to go to a co-ed school is really your choice, just like you can choose whether or not you go to a religiously affiliated school,” Meyers said.

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