An Interview with Brooke Weinmann

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Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Brooke Weinmann, a fellow alum of The College of William and Mary who also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.  I recently met Brooke through an online networking event, and discovered that she co-founded The Atlanta Girls’ School, an all-girls school in Atlanta, GA that prepares girls in grades 6-12 for college.  I was immediately intrigued about the school—why she founded it, what the school is like, and how it shapes the experiences and expectations of its graduates.  I also immediately liked Brooke, who is personable, knowledgeable, and interesting.  Brooke currently works for Academy International Travel Services, where she facilitates educational travel for small groups, and also serves as a Trustee on the College of William and Mary Foundation Board.  I found her answers to my questions about Atlanta Girls’ School fascinating, and I am happy to be able to share some of Brooke’s insights and knowledge—as well as information about the school—with you.

1.  You worked with Emily Ellison to found the Atlanta Girls’ School, with an official beginning in 1998 and a first graduating class in 2004. What was your motivation for founding the school—why was it a passion for you?

When Emily and I first spoke about her desire to start an all-girls school, I jumped at the chance to help lead the effort.  As a graduate of an all-girls school myself, I felt as though the challenge to start this school had called my name. From my personal experience as well as the experience of fellow graduates of girls’ schools, I knew what a significant impact this school could and would have on generations of girls and families. Atlanta needed a girls’ school.  While filled with many fine co-educational institutions, it was the only city of its size in the country we could locate without the option of single-gender education for girls.  Creating this college-preparatory, independent, non-sectarian, purpose-built, 21st century school would give Atlanta and its girls an unparalleled educational opportunity that arguably had never before existed in the city. We wanted to start this school for a multitude of reasons, including for our own daughters, who were quite young at the time.  Before Atlanta Girls’ School, sending them to an all-girls boarding school or waiting for them to attend a women’s college were our only options.

2.  The school’s website emphasizes the difference an all-girls’ school makes in female achievement—increased test scores, increased participation in athletics and STEM, and less anxiety. Why do you think a single-gender environment encourages girls to flourish?

When you walk down the halls at AGS, you can instantly feel the energy that is unique to an all-girl environment. At an all-girls school, the girls are placed front and center. They are the leaders of every club. They are the captains of all the sports teams. They are the mentors for younger students. They are inspiration for their teachers. This unwavering vibe sets a tone that every girl is valued. The bar will be set high and she will be challenged in the classroom and on the playing field.  But with the challenge comes the support of her peers and teachers, steady encouragement that she can and will succeed. Girls graduate not only feeling they can take on whatever college and the real world throws at them, but they graduate with the tools necessary to actually do it.  Our alumnae are extraordinary.

 And then, of course, there is the hard evidence and research. At AGS, the curriculum has always been built on current and emerging research on how girls learn best, what methods of engagement connect girls meaningfully to teaching and learning, and the focus on self-efficacy in preparation for both college and life.

 Here is some additional background information you may find interesting taken from http://www.afsa.org/all-girls-all-boys-all-good-benefits-single-sex-education:

 “Teachers have long been aware that learning styles among students can vary significantly. Research suggests that boys and girls might benefit more from divergent teaching styles that cater to their respective biological profiles.

 Take listening skills, for instance: Boys often need to hear instructions at a higher volume of speech for increased comprehension. Likewise, research suggests that boys are more receptive to action-oriented, tactile presentations in the classroom. Another study indicates that, in general, boys are more vocal than girls on teams and prefer group work to independent study.

As for females, researchers find that girls learn better when the nuances of color, texture and smell are introduced. Girls reportedly perform better academically in a warmer classroom, while boys perform better in a classroom at least five degrees cooler than their female counterparts prefer.

 In a single-gender setting, instructors can vary teaching methods to bring out the best in their students. When educators tailor their approach to boost academic success, this contributes to psychological and emotional success….

 …Student self-esteem is a concern for parents and educators. Students in a single-sex environment are more likely to be open to various fields of study, and are less likely to be self-conscious or hesitant about trying out new areas of learning atypical for that gender. Structuring the classroom experience around this model allows the student to enjoy the learning experience more deeply.

In turn, students develop greater self-confidence, tackle more challenging or “out of the norm” courses of study, and engage more freely with peers and adults in classroom discussions. Finally, studies show that single-sex education encourages students to develop their own interests and take advantage of leadership opportunities regardless of their gender….

Single-sex schools also help reduce social and peer pressure, which we have seen intensified in recent years by the increasing reliance on social media. In some cases, removing the presence of girls allows boys to knuckle down and work on their own. Conversely, removing the presence of boys can help girls become more vocal when engaging with peers because they no longer feel intimidated and are less self-conscious….

 Eliminating gender stereotypes in the classroom has demonstrable advantages, especially in closing achievement gaps.  According to Sara Sykes, the director of admissions at Westover School (an all-girl’s school in Middlebury, Connecticut), students at single-sex schools are “more likely to pursue a wider range of fields of study especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

 Ms. Sykes points to a recent National Coalition of Girls’ Schools study, which reported: “When rating their computer skills, 36 percent of graduates of independent girls’ schools consider themselves strong students compared to 26 percent of their coed peers. In addition, 48 percent of girls’ school alumnae rate themselves great at math versus 37 percent for girls in coed schools. In fact, three times as many alumnae of girls’ schools plan to become engineers.”

 Likewise, a 2003 study in Psychology of Men and Masculinity indicated that boys from single-sex schools were more than twice as likely to pursue interests in subjects such as art, music, drama and foreign languages compared with boys at coed schools.”

3. Can you give us a brief overview of the girls’ experience at the school—how do academics, athletics, and student life blend to create a unique environment?

 I am indeed fortunate that I not only stay current about how the AGS experience is being curated by faculty, staff, and students as a founder and now trustee emerita, but I was able to live it through my two daughters’ experiences as students. The design of the school’s academic, co-curricular, and extracurricular programs interweave consistent values and beliefs about the development of girls and are reinforced across the intersections of these experiences. The skills and knowledge gained through the academic program are tested and applied in athletics and student life programs such as advisory, clubs, global travel, and EDLS (Education for the Development of Leadership and Service).

 Seeing, experiencing, and understanding the interconnectedness of these programs and how they mirror a microcosm of their anticipated young adult lives, coupled with the knowledge of how they are supported through the trials that lead to their growth and success, shape the competence and confidence students gain at AGS. It is an approach unique to girls’ schools and why the program is important in the lives of families who wish to raise resilient, intelligent, capable young women who will experience leadership development and an understanding of self long before entering college or living independently as a young adult.

4.  AGS works with the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship program for special needs students attending Georgia schools. The school also offers financial assistance to those who need it, and your admissions page includes information for A Better Chance applicants. Can you give us some information about each of these initiatives, and how they help to ensure that every girl has a chance to attend Atlanta Girls’ School?

All of the programs you mention help families learn more about independent schools as a viable option for their children. Socioeconomic diversity, as well as access to and opportunities in education for girls, are paramount to the AGS mission. As an independent school that does not receive state funding, tuition and fundraising are essential to sustaining AGS. The school understands that the tuition for some families may be cost prohibitive, so partnering with these programs affords families the opportunity to apply and attend a school that offers a dynamic, engaging, and empowering education for girls.

5.  With the recent closing—and reopening—of Sweet Briar College, the value and staying power of an all-girls’ education has been in the news. What do you think the future holds for all-girls’ education—both specifically for Atlanta Girls’ School and more generally for high schools and colleges across the country?

The current landscape, as illustrated in a variety of ways including social science research, highlights the need to foster a healthy, positive, and hopeful outlook for girls and young women as active participants and leaders in our society. We have made great strides throughout recent decades, but there is much work to do in the face of advertisement, messaging, and social media that objectify and sexualize girls and young women. Unfortunately, these messages and experiences may hinder, erode, and even paralyze girls and young women, disabling them from realizing their full potential.

 All-girls schools and colleges for women have, at their core, a mission of building self-efficacy, confidence, and determination in girls and women to see themselves as active contributors to our complex global society. The education and experience afforded them in these schools affirms their worth as intelligent, capable, and valuable problem-solvers and thinkers who can help positively shape the world. At AGS, we believe in girls and young women and exist to inspire girls to lead lives of purpose. This is why I believe in the value and staying power of an all-girls education, and why I am particularly proud of the work that is taking place at Atlanta Girls’ School.

 

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