City’s Pioneering Single-Sex Public School Turns 10
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A mile north of Spence, Chapin, and Nightingale-Bamford, another all-girls school, The Young Women’s Leadership School is celebrating a milestone anniversary this month.
Ten years after TYWLS opened amid protestations from civil liberties and civil rights groups, the East Harlem school — New York’s contemporary experiment in public, single-sex education — is throwing itself a birthday party tomorrow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
About 750 students from public girls’ schools across the country are expected at the gala. Attendees will screen “Because of Us,” a documentary about the school produced by the TYWLS’s benefactor, the Young Women’s Leadership Foundation. The school boasts a 100% graduation rate and sends its students to some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges.
“This school is very important historically,” the president of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, Leonard Sax, said. “When it was founded, single-sex schools were thought of as something for rich people.”
All of New York City’s single-sex public schools, relatively common through the early 1960s, had become coeducational by the mid-1980s. The model was revived in 1996, when Andrew Tisch and Ann Rubenstein Tisch partnered with the city public schools to establish the school on East 106th Street.
TYWLS opened despite opposition from groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that single-sex schools violate the Title IX — the federal law banning gender-based exclusion. Today, TYWLS serves 425 middle school and high school students, who reside primarily from Harlem and the South Bronx. Almost all of the students are black and Hispanic, and about 85% of them qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, according to data provided by the school.
There is no admissions test for applicants, and the student body comprises young people with a wide range of ability levels, Ms. Tisch said. “It’s not a gifted school and it’s not a magnet school,” she said. “This is a model that made a lot of sense: It didn’t involve a brain drain or a vouchers or anything that would dismantle the system.”
The Young Women’s Leadership Foundation also established girls’ leadership schools in Chicago and Philadelphia, in addition to one in the Bronx and two in Queens. Foundation grants fund university-based summer programs for students, supplementary teaching materials for educators, and full-time college advisers.
“There’s peer pressure in every high school, and it’s certainly here,” the TYWLS college counselor, Christopher Farmer, said. “What we’ve done here, though, is create a culture where it’s cool to be prepared, it’s cool to do your homework, and it’s cool to go to class.” Nationwide, there are 241 public schools that offer single-sex learning opportunities, Dr. Sax, the author of “Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences,” said. Of those, 51 are entirely single-sex in format, with no co-educational electives, lunch breaks, or activities, Nine of those 51 schools are in New York City, according to data provided by his organization. He said more such schools are opening each year across the country.
“In co-ed schools, with boys, you’ll hear, ‘I don’t want to go to college,'” a 16-year-old TYWLS senior, Ashley Brown, an aspiring nurse practitioner, said. “They pull you back from reaching your goals. With the girls here, you’re more inspired to succeed.”