Helping Struggling Girls Find Strength

From Harry Potter’s Hogwarts to Professor Xavier’s school for X-Men, boarding schools have made quite the cinematic comeback in recent years. This trend is reflected in real life as well, as residential academic facilities are adding innovative approaches to a centuries-old tradition of offering quality educational experiences for specific sets of students.

As boarding schools have evolved from Victorian-era repositories for upper-crust heirs into dynamic institutions for diverse populations, some of the most significant developments have occurred in programs designed to meet the unique and challenging needs of at-risk adolescent girls.

They may not offer classes in the development of nascent wizardry or the proper use of superhuman powers, but therapeutic boarding schools for girls can offer something similarly magical: an opportunity for troubled teenagers to transform themselves into strong and confident young women.

Giving Girls the Attention They Deserve

According to the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS), many modern advances in the education of young women can be traced to the “academic revolution” that followed the 1982 publication of “In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development” by Harvard University researcher Dr. Carol Gilligan. By promoting the theory that male-centric classrooms did not adequately support the unique ways in which girls “think, interact, display leadership, and make decisions,” Dr. Gilligan prompted a spate of studies and a re-evaluation of the manner in which American children are educated.

Over the ensuing decades, reports such as “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America” by the American Association of University Women and “Failing at Fairness: How Schools Shortchange Girls” by Myra and David Sadker challenged – and ultimately transformed – how girls are taught in the United States.

Myra Sadker died while being treated for breast cancer in 1995, but her husband continues to research, teach, and write about the role of gender in education. In a biography posted on the Myra Sadker Foundation website, David noted that his late wife’s research into public schools’ efforts to educate girls revealed much to be concerned about:

Myra pioneered the research that documented gender bias in America’s schools. From grade school through graduate school, from inner cities to rural towns, Myra uncovered not only blatant gender discrimination in textbooks and sports funding, but also subtle inequities that shaped the way students were taught. Using careful research protocols, she discovered that girls were instructed with less focus and precision than boys. Good, bad or indifferent, boys got more of one of the most valuable classroom resources: the teacher’s time and talent. Sitting in the same classrooms, girls were being consistently, if unintentionally, shortchanged. Myra’s work alerted Americans to the silent erosion of female potential, their ideas and future careers, the casualties of sexism in school.

Researchers and sociologists are not the only experts who have advocated on behalf of single-sex education. In recent years, proponents such as Leonard Sax, have called for gender-specific instruction on the basis of biological, neurological, and developmental differences between male and female students.
A former family physician who founded the National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE), Sax says that ignoring these basic differences between boys and girls shortchanges all students.

“If you don’t understand those differences, and you teach boys and girls as if they were the same, the end result is a kindergarten classroom where the boys tell you drawing is for girls and a middle school classroom where girls tell you computers are for boys,” Sax told the Associated Press in July 2006. “If you don’t understand gender differences, you end up furthering gender stereotypes,” Sax said.

Finding Success in a Supportive Environment

In 2005, the Goodman Research Group surveyed more than 1,000 college freshmen who had graduated from all-girl high schools. Questioned about their opinions of their single-sex secondary education, the young women expressed significant satisfaction with their school’s ability to prepare them for college and beyond:

  • Ninety-five percent said they were either “very” or “extremely” satisfied with the strong academic curriculum at their all-girl schools.
  • Ninety-three percent said they were “very” or “extremely” satisfied with the ability of schools to prepare them for college.
  • ninety-three percent reported they were “very” or “extremely” satisfied with the individualized attention they received at their all-girl high schools.
  • Ninety-seven percent said they believed they were “more” or “equally” prepared for public speaking as were peers who attended co-ed schools.

In addition to offering comprehensive educational opportunities designed to meet the specific needs of female students, therapeutic boarding schools for girls expand the supportive environment with innovative co-curricular programs, counseling and therapy sessions, and round-the-clock assistance and attention.

Developing Skills, Exceeding Expectations

Another therapeutic boarding school for girls, The Copper Canyon Academy in Rimrock, Arizona, enhances its strong academic curriculum and counseling program with animal-assisted therapies in which students care for, interact with, and learn from dogs and horses.

Through their work with teachers, therapists, and staff members, the girls who attend Copper Canyon Academy achieve academic successes while also developing the self-awareness and self-esteem necessary for continued development. Working with animals gives them the opportunity to put their new skills into practice while also learning about empathy, leadership, and healthy interactions.

“Animals don’t lie, manipulate, or cheat,” the Copper Canyon website reads. “As students work with the animals, they begin to realize that lying, manipulating and cheating don’t work; they begin to form bonds and to expand their horizons beyond themselves.”

Whether solving math problems or shoveling stables, girls who attend therapeutic boarding schools are presented with a wide range of unique opportunities for growth and development. With enthusiastic teachers, experienced therapists, and intensive support systems, these schools give girls the chance to develop the skills and strategies that will enable them to become successful adults.

Perhaps most importantly, therapeutic boarding schools for girls introduce students to their most powerful advocates: themselves. As Myra and David Sadker wrote, “When girls go to single-sex schools, they stop being the audience and become the players.”


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