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Coed or singer-gender school?: Best choice depends on what fits the student

Coed or single-gender school?
Best choice depends on what fits the student

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

Creighton Prep senior Brandon Cartwright reads Hamlet during a British Literature class. Photo by Lisa Schulte

Anna Drvol (left) and Ann Reynek do a science experiement at Duchesne Academy in Omaha.

People across the country are impressed when they learn there are 17 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Omaha – a truly amazing number for an archdiocese with an estimated 223,000 parishioners.

Another impressive fact is the variety of choices students have between 12 coed and five single-gender schools.

There are three all-girls Catholic high schools – Duchesne Academy, Marian and Mercy, all in Omaha – and two all-boys high schools – Creighton Prep in Omaha and Mount Michael in Elkhorn. All five schools are operated by religious orders.

Then there are the 12 coed Catholic high schools: Daniel J. Gross, Roncalli and V.J. and Angela Skutt, all in Omaha; Scotus Central Catholic, Columbus; Pope John XXIII Central Catholic, Elgin; Archbishop Bergan, Fremont; Cedar Catholic, Hartington; St. Francis, Humphrey; Holy Family, Lindsay; Norfolk Catholic, Norfolk; St. Mary, O'Neill, and Central Catholic in West Point. These schools are operated by the archdiocese and/or parishes.

With such a variety of schools, it comes down to what school best fits the needs of each student.

Realistic view

According to Wayne Morfeld, principal at Scotus Central Catholic, the purpose of a high school is to provide students with a realistic view of the "real world." That means presenting them with a healthy balance of both male and female examples.

"Society is coed and if we're going to prepare our students to function in society, then we need to give them a realistic learning and growth experience," he said.

The high school experience, he added, is much more than academics. It's social development, too.

Both are important, said Sheila Haggas, head of school at Duchesne Academy, but sometimes social barriers make it difficult for students to fully express themselves.

"The greatest advantage of an all-girls school is that it allows a young woman to really discover who she is," Haggas said. "From that flows the opportunity to really build self-esteem, self-confidence, and she just is not influenced by the social pressures and the social dynamics that occur when boys and girls are together."

Lauren Stansbury, a sophomore at Duchesne, said attending an all-girls school has been a positive experience because it allows her to concentrate on her studies.

"You definitely focus more on academics than you do on your appearance or your social standing," Lauren told The Catholic Voice. "You realize that, yeah, boys might be fun," but "your education is what's going to take you to the next level."

Breaking stereotypes

Society has created certain stereotypes and at a single-gender school some of those can be broken, said John Naatz, principal at Creighton Prep.

For example, at an all-boys school, boys get to "broaden their horizons" by being cheerleaders and flute players, he said, and they take classes that normally might be filled by females.

On the same note, those who attend an all-girls school are more likely to take classes that are typically considered "boy" subjects, Haggas said.

"I think girls develop sometimes a phobia or a dislike for math and science in middle school, and so they decide that they don't like math and science," she said. "But in an all-girls school, they realize, 'I can do this.'"

They are also more willing to raise their hands in class and take on leadership roles, she said.

Rebecca Cleveland, president of Gross Catholic, said she is certainly aware of some of the research that has been done regarding how the different genders learn, and that is why the school has taken steps to train its teachers on gender equality in the classroom.

"The school climate that exists in our coed school helps prepare students for the cooperative ventures they'll face in the future," she said.

Building relationships

With many single-gender schools having relatively small class sizes, the environment can be intimate and the relationships strong, especially between the faculty and students, said Elizabeth Kish, head of school at Marian. Many times, the bonds that are formed go beyond school walls and continue for life.

"With so many girls present to them (at an all-girls school), they see so many different ways they can be," Kish said.

They have the opportunity to listen and learn from other girls, and they can seek their ambitions and dreams, she said.

Creighton Prep senior Ryan Chupp said he likes the camaraderie that takes place at an all-boys school.

"It's kind of like a fraternity, a brotherhood," he said.

Cleveland said similar relationships are made at coed schools, especially those that are Catholic. Students learn how to properly interact with people of the opposite sex and how to develop healthy relationships with one another because of the religious tone present at the schools.

Not for everyone

Single-gender schools aren't for everyone, educators said. There are some students who need the coed stimulation or competition to do their best work, while others do better without the distractions that come with being with the opposite sex.

This doesn't mean that coed schools are bad, said Carolyn Jaworski, principal at Mercy. It just means students need to decide how and where they can reach their full potential, she said. For some, a single-gender school is that place.

"If it's right, it works," she said. "You've got to find that school that has that identity that's going to fit your child best."

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