Washington University in St. Louis has announced that it will serve as the institutional sponsor for Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls (hawthornschool.org), the first single-sex STEM charter school in St. Louis.
Pending approval of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Hawthorn will open in August 2015 with a 6th and 7th grade class and will add a class each year. Ultimately the school will serve 500 girls in grades 6 through 12 by 2020. Enrollment will be open and tuition will be free.
The school has yet to identify a location.
Mary Danforth Stillman, daughter of Sen. John Danforth and niece of former Washington University Chancellor William H. Danforth, is the school’s founder and is leading efforts to open the school. Hawthorn is affiliated with the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), which supports five high-performing all-girls public schools in New York City and nine affiliate schools in Illinois, Texas, Maryland and New York.
Founded by Washington University graduate and Board of Trustees member Ann Rubenstein Tisch, the Young Women’s Leadership Network has a track record of success. The flagship YWLN school in East Harlem boasts a graduation rate over 96% for the past 13 years. Every graduating senior has been accepted to college with significant financial aid.
Hawthorn will offer an innovative, hands-on, college-preparatory curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Lessons will be reinforced through after-school and summer programming. Hawthorn will emphasize collaborative learning and connection to families and the broader community. Girls will wear uniforms and meet daily with a faculty adviser. A full-time social worker will be on staff and a trained college counselor will work with the girls beginning in 10th grade. The school will also incorporate both a leadership and a health and wellness curriculum at all grade levels. Girls will participate in a wide array of extracurricular activities.
Stillman, who graduated from Holton-Arms, an all-girls school in Bethesda, Maryland, says single-sex education provides girls with unique educational and leadership opportunities. Educated as an attorney, Stillman served as an assistant dean at Washington University and taught a freshman seminar on the Bill of Rights for nine years.
“The single-sex option is out there for people who can pay and now we are saying, ‘Let’s provide that option to students with limited financial resources,’” said Stillman “At Hawthorn, every leadership role will be filled by a girl. Every classroom discussion will be led by a girl. Hawthorn girls will be encouraged to reach their highest potential in and out of the classroom, and our faculty and staff will provide the support and encouragement they need to realize that potential.”
She adds the school’s “girl power attitude” will celebrate each student’s attributes, helping girls maintain a strong sense of self-respect, personal worth and inner strength.
“An all-girls school beginning at the 6th grade captures girls as they head into the tumultuous adolescent years,” said Stillman. “It is at this age that girls often begin to lose some of their earlier confidence and their self-esteem can begin to waver. Middle school girls who once saw themselves as curious and capable students, particularly in math and science, often begin deferring to boys.”
Hawthorn is a member of the Missouri Charter Public Schools Association which provides ongoing strategic and technical support to the school. Hawthorn is receiving additional support from the Office of St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay and the school is awaiting feedback in late January from the Mayor’s charter application review process. In addition, the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation is serving as the school’s fiscal sponsor during the planning and development phases.
Washington University will help train teachers, develop curriculum and provide student tutors and mentors. Washington University also sponsors KIPP Inspire Academy, a high-performing middle school in the Fox Park neighborhood. The university’s sponsorship is part of its broad, ongoing effort to make higher education accessible to all students regardless of their background or finances.
“I have no doubt that the Hawthorn School will strengthen opportunities to educate the next generation of women from the City of St. Louis,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “The intense preparation young women will receive at Hawthorn will empower and inspire them to pursue higher education and, possibly even careers in science, technology and engineering. Through efforts like this, we can make a real difference in our own community.”
Women, especially minority women, are underrepresented in the STEM fields. Ralph S. Quatrano, PhD, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science and a vocal advocate for women in engineering, says programs like Hawthorn can help close the gender gap.
“To address the most pressing problems facing our planet, we need a diverse community of quantitatively skilled problem solvers,” said Quatrano. “Women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are critical to this endeavor. By educating and empowering young women in our region, the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls will help build a strong STEM pipeline.”
Barbara Schaal, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and an accomplished biologist, says she is excited to serve as role model to this next generation of scientists and engineers.
“When I heard about this, I thought, ‘Wow. I want to participate. I want to go to that school,’” said Schaal. “I’d love to see our women faculty members going to the school and taking those students under our wing and nurturing them.”
She hopes Hawthorn helps to change the misconceptions that drive women away from STEM careers.
“There is this feeling that you can’t be a successful woman in a STEM field and also have a warm and rich personal life,” said Schaal. “We know that’s just not true. Just look at the Biology Department at Washington University. Many of the women here have families and children and rich lives. I look forward to sharing that message.”
The university’s sponsorship efforts will be led by its Institute for School Partnership (ISP), which provides training and resources to elementary and secondary schools throughout the region.
“WUSTL’s approach to sponsorship is to also be very actively involved as a partner,” said Vicki May, director of the Institute for School Partnership. “We are very interested in supporting public schooling throughout the metropolitan region and see this unique opportunity as one that will serve as a laboratory of innovation to benefit public education.”
ISP has a track record of tangible results. For instance, ISP has worked for six years in the Hazelwood School District to develop science curriculum and materials. The result: an unprecedented spike in elementary and middle school science test scores. And at KIPP Inspire Academy, math scores are climbing and graduates are receiving acceptance letters to the region’s most competitive high schools.
Washington University hosts a number of other programs to support education in St. Louis including:
K-12 Connections brings WUSTL faculty, students and staff concerned about urban education together with St. Louis schools, coordinating contributions of time and expertise with stated school needs.
MySci equips elementary school teachers with instructional materials and professional development opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in order to help instill a love of science in students.
Each One Teach One dispatches some 250 undergraduates to local schools for one-on-one weekly tutoring sessions