The only single-sex public school in Missouri opened two years ago with the help of $1.5 million in financing from IFF, which enabled the purchase and renovation of a 1920s-era building in North St. Louis. Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls began with 6th and 7th graders, added an 8th grade class this year, and will now expand to accommodate its first high school class. IFF is financing the expansion with a $600,000 loan approved this spring.
Hawthorn’s college preparatory curriculum aims to close the achievement gap and prepare graduates to enter STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – where women and minorities are underrepresented. Courses are taught from an interdisciplinary approach, and students work in project teams similar to real-world work environments. School leaders, some of whom are graduates of all-girl schools, hope to connect students with professional networks and opportunities in STEM careers.
“An all-girls school beginning at the sixth grade captures girls as they head into the tumultuous adolescent years,” says Mary Danforth Stillman, the school’s founder and executive director. “It is at this age that girls often begin to lose some of their earlier confidence. At Hawthorn, every leadership role is filled by a girl. Every classroom discussion is led by a girl. Hawthorn girls are encouraged to reach their highest potential in and out of the classroom, and our faculty and staff provide the support and encouragement they need to realize their highest potential.”
The single-sex education option is typically only available through private schooling, but this public charter school is open to all girls living within the city boundaries at no cost. Hawthorn is located near three areas of St. Louis in highest-need of high-quality education seats, according to IFF research.
Nearby Washington University in St. Louis is Hawthorn’s deeply involved charter sponsor. In addition to its official responsibility to hold the school accountable for meeting student achievement goals, the university is also helping to train teachers, develop curriculum, and tutor and mentor students.
“We are committed to providing university resources to enhance curriculum and instruction at Hawthorn, particularly in STEM,” says Vicki May, Director of Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership. “Hawthorn graduates will be part of the generation that is going to help solve the problems facing our planet.”