The all-girls or all-boys school is a well-established tradition that offers students a modern education option.

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There are increasingly more options when it comes to high school education. STEM, STEAM, IB, private, parochial…as well as a model that’s been around for centuries: the all-girls or all-boys school. It may be one of the most relevant options today. Sometimes dismissed as old-fashioned, single-gender institutions, according to several studies, create an environment that fosters social and academic skills needed in today’s world.

Studies that support the single-gender experience

The National Coalition of Girls’ Schools and the International Boys’ Schools Coalition, among others, have studies that point to higher satisfaction among graduates from single-gender schools. A 2009 report from Dr. Linda J. Sax states that girls who attend all-girls schools graduate with more confidence, are more likely to engage in college activities and more likely to seek out a professor for support.

Jake Guadnola, director of Tacoma’s Annie Wright Upper School for Girls, agrees, saying, “The relational nature of our program is what helps students adapt in college. It sets the table for them of what education can and can’t be, and it prepares them for graduate-level work.”

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Advantages of an all-boys or all-girls education

In a single-gender environment, students explore identity and more freely express themselves without direct competition or pressure from the opposite gender. It’s beyond simply building confidence in the classroom — it’s about engaging a more holistic sense of self. To quote the International Boys’ School Coalition: “Without the social pressures of a coed environment, students in an all-boys school can explore the full range of their personalities and potential.”

Girls often take more risks and engage more assertively in a single-gender environment, while boys tend to display more kindness, appreciation and collaboration with their peers. The classroom becomes a place of true exploration when students shed the need to prove themselves to the opposite gender, and opportunities for representation in every sphere increases in single-gender settings. For girls, this often means finding their voice, and using it to speak up.

“The all-girls setting allowed my daughter to be herself and speak openly and honestly in class discussions, when she otherwise might not have, says Sarah Bryant, mother of a girls’ school graduate. “Single-gender education allowed her to become a confident leader, preparing her for college and beyond.”

In single-gender schools, students can easily examine and try out various styles of leadership because roles are based on who truly models and encompasses a club or group. “Eschewing stereotypes, [students] discover they have many roles to play as a scholar, athlete, artist, musician, and friend,” remarks the International Boys School Coalition.

Education with a side of empowerment & empathy

Rachel Holland of Tacoma recently graduated from Annie Wright Schools and is headed to Bryn Mawr College in the fall. She says her experience attending an all-girls high school provided her with a sense of empowerment. “You’re taught in a way that is more specific to your identity and empowers you to embrace your education. In some ways, even though I went to an all-girls school, I felt I was treated more like a ‘person’ rather than a ‘girl.’ It did still empower me to embrace being female, but did so without telling me what female should look or act like. It gave me the tools for having confidence in both my identity and education.”

Susan Bauska, director of the Annie Wright Upper School for Boys, has now experienced teaching in coed schools as well as in single-gender ones, both in an all-girls environment and now an all-boys one. She concurs with Holland about girls being empowered in a single-gender format. Boys on the other hand? She’s noticed a sense of empathy and collaboration among what is a true cohort of boys — something that could be missing in coed classrooms. It’s not a case of either-or in an all-boys’ school — either toughness or compassionate relationship; it’s both. Rising Annie Wright tenth grader McHardy Bryant, for example, rides mountain bikes and last year pitched for Stadium High School’s junior varsity baseball team. He also will be the first male student ever to sit on the AWS dormitory honor council, hearing disciplinary cases of his peers and serving as a compassionate advocate, helping fellow students to make better decisions. Athletic toughness can and should go hand-in-hand with empathy.

“Single-gender education may not be the right choice for every adolescent, but it’s a simply amazing one,” adds Bauska. “And isn’t it wonderful to have this choice?”

Founded in 1884, Annie Wright Schools serve students from age 3 through high school. Annie Wright Lower and Middle Schools offer coed programs in preschool through grade 8. Separate Upper Schools for boys and girls offer day and boarding options in grades 9-12.