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Behind The Pleated Skirts and Blue Blazers

by Danya Steele
Images by Aquinas HS


"Hail Mary, full of grace...the Lord is with thee..." resonates through the waxed wooden-set hallways of Aquinas High School around 8:07 a.m. on school days. I stand up, straightening out my pleated uniform skirt and freshly starched school blouse...sighing at the redundant prayer routine...but respecting it nonetheless. Morning prayers are soon over as the first school bell rings to kick-off the day...my day...at an all-girls catholic high school in Bronx, NY.

I've been educated by the New York Archidocese's school system since my first year of schooling, so the rules and regulations that come with catholic school territory are innately standard to me. I know all about the need for respect and discipline...the value of honesty and integrity...the respectability in being selfless and loving...blah blah blah, this is nothing new. It's been drilled in my head since day one. I've also become accustomed to the same-sex educational environment; I've been going to an all-girls school since 6th grade. Continuing the pattern into high school therefore came as no major social shock or surprise to me, either. No biggie...I'm still breathing.

It's kind of funny actually; people tend to ask me, "So how is that? A catholic...all-girls...high school?" -- spacing out each description as if it gets worse by the word. Truth be told, the only aspect of catholic school that's so different from what I've observed in a vast majority of public schools is the intent focus on morals. "Religion" is a class in catholic school; you're actually graded on your judgment of morality, responsibility, consideration, and concern for your fellow human being. Classes also tend to be a little smaller, as the students tend to be a little more disciplined, so generally, you can say there's a difference in the overall learning environment.

Despite this, I wouldn't go as far as to say that the quality of a catholic school education is necessarily better than that of a public; I've heard that rhetoric before and it's just ridiculous. You can be the most "moral" person in the world and still be illiterate. I don't attest to some automatic advanced acceleration in catholic school lesson plans; at the end of the year we have the same educational standards to succeed as our public education counterparts. Same water; different fountain. There's simply a variation in the catholic school ambiance; teachers get to be a little more unconventional, which can be a positive...or negative thing, and if you happen to snag up some good teachers, the combination of a great environment and great lesson plan will do wonders. Time has taught me this.

"In my last school, I felt disgusted." begins Jessica Singh, a student at Aquinas High School. "We were given really difficult class work, and it seemed like the teachers didn't even care. They didn't know how to teach, they couldn't explain the work, they couldn't handle our questions...It's like they just threw the work at us. The classrooms were crazy. Education? What education? That environment made me sick."

Jessica isn't biased to parochial or private school, however. She also testifies to being transferred to a catholic school afterwards, with minimal results. She continues,"When I got to catholic school, I came into another problem! The 'environment' was cool, but I wasn't learning anything! They didn't teach us anything practical. It was then that I realized catholic school didn't guarantee a good education...as a difficult lesson plan didn't guarantee a top notch education, either. I had to find the balance. I don't know if I'll find it here, but I'll see."

So, now we know that a catholic school education doesn't guarantee academic success. What about the same-sex issue? Does going to an all-girls school magically equip me with some greater level of intellect or insight than if I'd been in a co-ed environment? Does it suddenly provide me with some profound level of maturity and focus? Of course not. Yes, studies have shown that during the developmental years of adolescence, females tend to lag behind in co-ed educational settings where young people are still learning to develop sexually, emotionally, and socially. However, it's unfair and blatantly illogical to assume that because I'm in a room with all females, I'll suddenly "learn better." I can have all the girl power in the world...and still be illiterate.

Going to an all-girls school doesn't guarantee you anything but a short supply of men's restrooms. You still have your class clowns...your non-motivational, non-inspirational, inassertive students who lack focus and direction. Sure, the possibility for a great learning environment is there...but it must be applied...it is not automatic. When educators take the time and consideration out to realize this, the results can be beautiful.

Same-sex educational environments are generally great for social confidence; guys don't have to worry about impressing girls...girls don't have to worry about impressing guys; you're there to learn. There's always time to hookup afterschool. The blasting sound systems from our "knights in shining armor", waiting like wolves on prey at the first sign of a dismissal bell, are evidence enough. During school hours, however, you're there to focus and delve into who you are as opposed to warping yourself into what you believe you should be as through the eyes of the opposite sex. Distracting sexual tension is virtually gone; that can definitely help your need to focus in school. The advantage of a same-sex environment is very similar to that of a catholic school; the potential and probablitiy of a great ambiance. Again, when you combine a great environment with a great lesson plan...you have success. One without the other, is useless.

So maybe you're wondering by now... "What's the point in paying for an all-girls private school education if there's no greater guarantee of success?" Well, it's all about the balance. If you're fortunate enough to find the great balance between a positive educational atmosphere and innovative lesson planning, then you have a great school; Congratulations. If, on the other hand, you're not as fortunate...then I'll let you in on a little secret of mine. Truth be told...a lot of people tend to "assume" the ridiculous...even college admissions. So hey...good grades...private school... "prestigious awards"...you figure it out. All the pretentious glam and glitter that comes along with being "private" or "elite"...it can really fool the lazy eye. Therefore, even if the school turns out to be absolute crap, with apathetic teachers or lack of any scholastic motivation...you can at least use it to "look good" on your transcript. Yeah, I know..it's shallow...but hey...what a system.

Contact information for Thomas Acquinas High School:
Phone: (718) 367-2113
Address: 685 E182st Bronx, NY
Web Site: www.acquinashs.org


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