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When Mt. Alvernia closed, some had been anxious about all-girls schooling in Mass. However as we speak, it’s thriving.


All-girls colleges are on the rebound post-pandemic, with enrollment numbers trending up and alternatives for innovation round each nook.

Situated in Greenfield, Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty is a boarding and day college for women in grades 7–12. Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty/Handout

The sudden closure of Mount Alvernia Excessive Faculty final spring made waves amongst Massachusetts’ small-but-mighty contingent of all-girls colleges, sparking controversy as information unfold that the Franciscan sisters who owned the Newton property would quickly be promoting.

With the brand new college yr underway, nevertheless, it’s now clear that Mount Alvernia’s closure wasn’t a herald of uncertainty for all-girls schooling in Massachusetts. In actual fact, a number of impartial college leaders who spoke with had been optimistic as they shared their post-pandemic outlook, discussing rising enrollment traits and highlighting alternatives for innovation round each nook.

“The pandemic was tough for a lot of households — they didn’t need to take into consideration essentially one thing new,” stated Molly Martins, founder and president of The Academy at Penguin Corridor in Wenham. “And now, as we emerge from that, I believe they’re actually eager about what’s the greatest instructional alternative for his or her daughters at the moment.”

Based on Martins, the variety of switch college students greater than doubled final yr at Penguin Corridor, an all-girls highschool with a pupil physique of about 120. After numbers “flattened” through the top of COVID-19, she stated the varsity is now seeing an uptick in enrollment, purposes, and engagement from potential households. 

“There’s a bit little bit of an anomaly in there,” she stated of the pandemic years. “The numbers had been completely trending as we anticipated them to, ranging from after we opened in 2016. And with the onset of the pandemic in 2020, one of many points for us was the shortcoming to have folks on our campus. And it’s actually necessary for a brand new college for folks to expertise this system, expertise the ability, expertise all of what now we have to supply.”

Amongst colleges that take each day and boarding college students, as Penguin Corridor started doing in 2021, COVID-era restrictions introduced noticeable modifications in enrollment demographics. 

“The pandemic did shift issues, particularly for our home boarding and worldwide boarding inhabitants,” stated Angela Brown, assistant head for admission and strategic initiatives at Wellesley’s Dana Corridor Faculty, which has 462 college students throughout grades 5-12. “There have been a number of households who had been pushing pause as a result of they wished to, or as a result of their nations had been making them, the place journey to the U.S. was difficult or journey backwards and forwards from their dwelling nations was difficult.”

In Greenfield, Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty reported a dip in boarding numbers that coincided with progress within the inhabitants of day college students. 

“In the course of the pandemic, that boarding inhabitants that was coming in from abroad actually dried up,” Head of Faculty Laurie Lambert stated. “And it’s beginning to trickle again, which is nice.” 

Stoneleigh-Burnham is at about 100 college students now in grades 7-12, and faculty leaders stated they hope to construct again as much as round 130 within the coming yr. 

Head coach Erin Calamari-Kirwan directs the Winsor Faculty area hockey workforce in 2022. – Barry Chin/Boston Globe Workers, File

These insights are in step with latest traits throughout the business: The Nationwide Affiliation of Impartial Faculties discovered that median enrollment at single-sex colleges improved within the 2021-22 and 2022-23 educational years, however didn’t attain pre-pandemic ranges. Boys’ colleges noticed a decline of 4%, in comparison with a 1% decline in ladies’ colleges, based on NAIS. The traits additionally various by geographic area and faculty measurement and kind. 

The Winsor Faculty in Boston’s Mission Hill, for instance, stated it maintains waitlists yearly and has seen regular enrollment. Serving college students in fifth via twelfth grade, the day college goals for about 475 college students yearly, based on Head of Faculty Sarah Pelmas.

“The pandemic did assist to extend our applicant pool for a number of years, because it did for many impartial colleges throughout the nation,” Pelmas stated in an e mail interview. “Our purposes initially went up by roughly 30%; they’ve now settled some, although we’re nonetheless trending 10-20% increased than our five-year historic common at our completely different entry factors.”

‘They’re by no means dimming their lights’

So, why an all-girls college? Based on Brown at Dana Corridor, it relies on whom you ask.

“In some ways, there aren’t variations between a single-gender college and a co-ed college,” she stated. “Folks are inclined to assume {that a} single-gender college might not be as rigorous as a co-ed college, or might not provide as many programs, or sports activities, or co-curricular actions, and that simply merely is just not true.”

Having labored in each co-ed and single-gender establishments, Brown stated, “I can inform you within the co-ed establishments wherein I’ve labored, there’s a magical time round fifth, sixth grade the place you begin to see younger ladies dim their mild in some specific means, and there’s a number of the reason why that occurs.”

She continued: “In a single-gender establishment, they’re by no means dimming their lights, they’re by no means turning down their quantity.”

Pelmas shared related observations from the frontlines of all-girls schooling, at the same time as she acknowledged that there’s all kinds of faculties on the market and a spot like Winsor might not be proper for everybody. 

The again view of The Academy at Penguin Corridor, an impartial all-girls highschool opened in Wenham in 2016. – Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe, File

“What a ladies’ college provides is the chance to be surrounded by ladies’ and ladies’s management, to internalize the truth that all the things may be led by a lady as a result of all they see round them is ladies’s management,” she stated. “There’s a actual sisterhood that exists in ladies’ colleges that’s onerous to seek out elsewhere in the identical means, and for a lot of college students that could be a game-changer.”

Jane Bell, a Stoneleigh-Burnham alumna turned college member, stated there’s a set core of values that unites college students there, no matter their favourite class or the sports activities they play. 

“They’re caring, compassionate. They’re at all times the one which’s going to present you a high-five on the soccer area. They’re at all times the one which’s going to present you that pep speak for those who want it,” Bell stated. “And I believe each second the place we collect in school, I really feel that, and it feels so particular to be right here.”

Trying forward

In terms of assembly college students the place they’re at, leaders at each Stoneleigh-Burnham and Penguin Corridor cited the necessity for adaptability. 

“We’re trying on the complete pupil; we’re how college students be taught as people, what their wants are,” Lambert stated. “We’re additionally very nimble as a result of we’re small, and we are able to adapt to the wants of our pupil physique and the wants of our neighborhood.” 

She cited, for example, the varsity’s flexibility in serving to one pupil shift her coursework round and compete within the Vex Robotics World Championship in Texas final spring. 

Penguin Corridor, which opened its doorways in 2016, equally counts flexibility as a plus. 

“One of many actual advantages that we expertise is the truth that we’re newer, so we aren’t certain by, ‘We’ve at all times completed it that means,’” Martins stated. “We’re not making an attempt to undo both a curriculum or a means of doing one thing that has been in place for a lot of, a few years or a long time in some instances. I believe we’re at all times trying ahead.”

A number of the extra established colleges are additionally trying forward — take Winsor, established in 1886. 

“Winsor, like all impartial colleges, tends so as to add with out ever subtracting, so now we have an unlimited variety of alternatives for college kids,” Pelmas stated. 

On one degree, she stated, “we need to have dozens of packages, and we additionally need to present a radical and rigorous middle- and high-school schooling, one which by no means closes a door for a pupil, in order that they’ll arrive at school and actually start to dive into their specialities.”

These alternatives may rely upon the place the varsity is situated; as an city college, for instance, Winsor boasts shut proximity to all of the cultural, inventive, and academic experiences Boston has to supply. Out in Western Mass., in the meantime, many younger ladies at Stoneleigh-Burnham hone their equestrian expertise — Lambert estimates that anyplace from 30-40% of the varsity’s college students experience in a given yr. 

“We really don’t really feel that we’re in competitors with different colleges, as a result of now we have such a particular program,” she stated. “We’re who we’re, and whereas we’d replace the way in which we take a look at sure elements of the expertise as time goes on — as a result of we at all times need to be what the scholars want for his or her futures, and that’s altering, significantly popping out of the pandemic — the core of who we’re is an incredible factor, and we don’t must deviate from that.”

Equestrian packages are among the many notable choices at Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty in Greenfield; an estimated 30-40% of scholars experience annually. – Stoneleigh-Burnham Faculty/Handout

Nonetheless, Stoneleigh-Burnham and different all-girls colleges throughout Massachusetts are discovering new methods to innovate and develop their footprint, each bodily and programmatically.

At Penguin Corridor, Martins stated the subsequent piece of the puzzle might be an growth of the athletics program. Based on Pelmas, Winsor’s campus grasp plan prioritizes renovating the science labs, however college leaders are additionally conserving an eye fixed out for brand spanking new athletic amenities. 

Stoneleigh-Burnham leaders touted the varsity’s Wingspan Program, which connects college students with experiential and project-based studying alternatives. And lately, Dana Corridor launched a serious classroom constructing undertaking and gained a grant from the Edward E. Ford Basis to create an information science program.

Like different college leaders, Brown touched on a recurring theme in all-girls schooling: The need to present younger ladies an academically bold schooling within the face of an ever-changing world. 

“And what was academically bold in 1881 [when Dana Hall was founded] may be very completely different than what’s bold in 2023,” she acknowledged. “However what stays the identical is that the varsity is at all times dedicated to offering that kind of setting, and so we innovate as time goes on, as a result of we need to give our college students the easiest.”