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All Girls: Single-Sex Education and Why It Matters


kamurj

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Excerpted from
All Girls: Single-Sex Education and Why It Matters
By Karen Stabiner

Full Ride. For the girls at TYWLS, financial aid was as much a part of the college dream as was acceptance at a favorite school. Maryam Zohny had done everything she could to get into Columbia University, and now she waited, atop a valedictorian's straight-A record, to see if the university would come up with enough money to make it possible. Amy Lopez still yearned to go to school in California-but even if she got in, even with financial aid, there was the unspoken question of how her family would pay for visits home. Diana Perez's uneven attendance and academic performance put her in an even more precarious position. A college financial-aid officer might not consider her to be a wise investment.

For six years, the girls had been tutored in the causal link between effort and reward, so a mix of momentum and faith got them through the application process. They applied to schools with an attitude of happy abandon, one that stood in stark contrast to the Marlborough seniors' more knowing anxiety: Maryam to Columbia's liberal arts program, early decision; Amy to a slew of schools, despite a chronic case of senioritis that compromised her already wobbly record; Diana to Skidmore College, her first choice, and to a handful of others. Chris Farmer looked out for the whole class-watching deadlines, reading esssays, filling out financial forms-but he set himself a specific goal for Diana: He was going to place her at a four-year college outside of New York City. She had to get out of there.

When Columbia deferred Maryam's early application, the mood changed. Like Christina Kim at Marlborough, Maryam was the best student TYWLS had to offer, and the scenario for her future had not included any kind of bad news. Chris Farmer called the admissions office and was assured that Maryam would get a spot when the rest of the class was filled in the spring, but the deferral made some of the other girls reevaluate their odds. What had seemed reasonable before now felt extravagant. In truth, the world could be unkind to high school seniors with good records, even to girls whose accomplishments were so dramatic when compared to those of their peers in the public school system. The TYWLS seniors began to scale back their hopes.

Amy shied away from the highly competitive schools like Columbia, and she received acceptance letters from eight of twelve schools. She could have attended any of three Cal State schools, but by the time the letters came, she had arrived at a surprising conclusion: She did not want to go away, after all. Although Chris Farmer had assumed that Amy would go to Cal State's Fresno or Hayward campus, she backed off and chose Manhattan's PACE University instead.

"Just in case college doesn't go the way I planned," she said, "I can be home and not in foreign territory." The Lopez family still talked about moving west, but Amy would deal with that when she had to. For now, she wanted to be with her family. Simply going to college felt like change enough.

Maryam was home for spring break the day her news came. She was up early, and when she checked her e-mail, she found an acceptance from Columbia's liberal-arts program. Maryam had a full ride; the only contribution she had to make was to participate in the university's work-study program.

She ran into her mother's bedroom to tell her the news, and then she began to call her friends. As always, she was circumspect about her emotions, remembering what early rejection had felt like, not wanting to seem a braggart to girls who had been turned down by a favorite school-but she had to tell them, and she was gratified at how happy they were for her. That was the lasting legacy of TYWLS: what Maryam called the "mushy stuff," the friendships that outlasted good luck and bad.

Diana was almost lucky. Skidmore College and Bard College both put her on their wait lists, but there would be no final word until May 1, when contracts were due. An admissions officer told Chris Farmer that Diana was first in line at Skidmore, but that was little solace, with almost a month to wait. Farmer watched, warily, as Diana began to miss school, the way she had in tenth grade. He could see that she was having a hard time, and he feared another bout of depression. "The wait list is torture," he said. "She's kind of a fatalist in general-the glass is half empty-and this plays right into that. She's feeling unwanted. The girls this happens to, it hurts their pride."

Her mother, Maria, came in the day before the contract deadline to tell the college counselor that they were putting Diana back on her antidepression medication. They had tried pills to help her sleep, but right now she needed more than that. Farmer called Skidmore that afternoon, and heard what he had spent a month hoping he would not hear: The admissions officer did not anticipate accepting anyone from the waiting list. There was better news at Bard, where Diana's acceptance was "a pretty sure thing," but he had to call both schools back late the next day, once the deadline for responses had passed officially.

So he held his breath for twenty-four hours, and then he called back. Bard College, which cost about $34,000 per year, offered Diana Perez a place in its freshman class for about $2,000 per year, in the form of a loan. Grant and scholarship money covered the rest. Skidmore College kept her on the wait list, but as far as Farmer was concerned, she was going to Bard. Diana was safely placed; he had to prepare for a week of "negotiating, begging, pleading," for a handful of other girls who were still on wait lists, and for girls who had only been accepted by community colleges. Some four-year schools were about to find out that they did not have enough students in their freshman classes, and when they did, Farmer intended to be there to press for "girls with real potential."

The one person who wasn't going anywhere was Cindy Jackson, the science teacher. Or rather, Cindy Jackson, the Program Chairperson, the Science Department Chair, the liaison for student teachers, the member of the school leadership committee, the public-speaking teacher, and, along with an art teacher, the most senior faculty member at TYWLS. Cindy was the only core academic teacher to have made it through six years with the Class of 2002, and she had no doubt that she would stick around. She continued acting, and, in April, she appeared in a three-night run of an off-Broadway play called "Stop Kiss." Still, TYWLS took up more and more of her time; she was an educator who acted on the side.

As for Celenia Chevere, her retirement was delayed again by yet another irresistible start-up. In September 2001, she opened a new K-12 public school in downtown Manhattan called New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math. Eleven girls followed her from TYWLS, so the school's first tenth-grade class was all girls.

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