Why I'm Proud To Have Attended An All-Girls School

Why I'm Proud To Have Attended An All-Girls School

To my TYWLS girls, thank you for the memories and sisterhood.

Isra Khaled

When I was 10-years-old, I made one of the most influential decisions of my life: I decided to attend an all-girl college prep school for the next seven years. I probably thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but in truth, I never could have predicted how significant those years would be. Hell, seven years later, at my graduation, I didn’t fully realize it.

After attending an all-girls private school for 7 years, I never knew anything different. Only that having about 70 girls per grade wasn't abnormally small in my mind, and wearing plaid skirts with a polo and converse every day was the norm. So imagine my confusion when I entered a big state school of around 10,000 people per grade, people wore normal clothes or "dressed down," every day, and there were boys. This was a whole new world to me. However, my confusion would grow even larger from the response I would get from people when they found out I graduated from an all-girls school. "Oh, really? Damn that must've sucked!"

I have spent all of my middle, and high school careers at an all-girls school. Going to an all-girls middle and high school changed my life for the better. But when I tell people this, I get gasps, stares, and sometimes even apologies for what I’ve had to endure. Honestly, single-sex education isn’t nearly as horrifying as it sounds. It taught me to stand up for what I believe in, never be embarrassed to cry in public and always break out some dance moves to relieve some stress. When the average person thinks of high school, they think of football games, prom, being in a classroom with their crush and all the effort that went into picking a new outfit every day.

Not many people realize this, but going to an all-girls school actually removed the pressure to be stereotypically girly. When I got to college I found out that apparently, it was “boyish” to like science. This was surprising to me, as at my school there were no rules about what girls should or should not be interested in.

Because I grew up in an environment where men did not have the upper hand, there was never anything I felt as if I couldn’t or shouldn’t do because I was a girl. Many girls in my grade are academically prepared to enter male-dominated fields. They are also very passionate about issues affecting women. Because of our community, we have a sense of importance instilled in us, and a voice that cannot be silenced.

For me, there was rarely pressure to dress up perfectly or compete with other girls for the attention of boys. In my community, girls focused on their personal ambitions and building communities with their friends, rather than getting approval from boys.

For me, one of the best feelings in the world is meeting someone who went to an all-girls school. The feeling is hard to convey as it is a mixture of curiosity and excitement that leads to a long conversation of endless comparisons about uniform skirts, disciplinary policies, the school environment, and of course, friendship. This conversation could last for hours, as the experience of the all-girls school is one that is full of many similar stories and experiences. Now that it's been about six months since I graduated from an all-girls' school, I want to take the time to say what that experience means to me.

For seven years, I attended a public all-girls school in Astoria, New York, called The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria (TYWLSA). To most who attend, TYWLSA quickly becomes home. It is where we spent hours upon hours figuring out algebra concepts or Spanish conjugations, and where we learned to love each other open-heartedly and without judgment. In a place where there seemed to be few petty distractions, we were able to learn and thrive from our teachers and the girls around us.

My memories from TYWLSA are full of laughter, tears and a bond that is just too difficult to explain to those who didn’t attend a single-sex school. Rolling out of bed with not so much as brushing your hair was the norm, as was coming to school with a plethora of zits. A bad day was quickly brightened with embarrassing stories. Failing a test could always have a silver lining with the amazing faculty who cared enough to help because they took the time to get to know each and every girl. TYWLSA wasn’t always an easy ride, and at times it seemed easier to just give up. As I look back, I'm so glad I didn't.

Graduating from TYWLSA was one of the most bittersweet moments I’ve ever experienced, as I was leaving behind memories and lessons that I know I could have never learned anywhere else. As our principal announced us, graduates of TYWLSA, I was overcome with sadness to think that this would be the last time I would see most of the girls around me. I was, however, settled by the idea that when we cross paths again, we have one of the greatest bonds to be shared. Oftentimes, that bond can be shared with other girls who graduated from all-girls schools. They just get it.

Attending an all-girls school comes with a lot of judgment and questioning. No, we aren't all "psycho feminists," we don't spend hours gossiping about each other, and we don't go to college boy-obsessed. We do, however, use our uniform skirts as napkins, eat crazy amounts of food whether it is ours or not, sing Miley Cyrus songs as loudly as possible, and graduate in long, white gowns— where all of a sudden, it seems like everyone is much older and wiser than they were just a few days before.

My classmates and I were acutely aware of how unique our middle and high school experience had been as a result of our school. We were open about our fears of college: not only wondering where we would end up, but fretting about going to a new school for the first time in seven years, not wearing a uniform 5 days out of the week, and, of course, having classes and being friends with *gasp * boys. Because our school was dedicated to preparing us for college, our expectations leaving high school were high. How prepared were we for the "real world," after seven years in the all-girls school bubble?

Now, almost a semester into my first year of college, I’m starting to realize the true value of an all-girls school. It was 100 percent acceptable to not put much effort into appearances. We grew to appreciate the ease of uniforms. There were no boundaries; in-depth conversations about periods were as common as talk about the weather. There were days when we all got on each other’s nerves, but we formed incredibly close and unique bonds. My friends and I would huddle over a phone to read over Buzzfeed lists about what it's like to go to an all-girls school and embrace their accuracy, and I admittedly thought that they basically summed up the all-girls school experience.

But there were some things those kinds of lists left off, things I didn’t truly realize or appreciate until my return to a co-ed classroom. So, here is a list of things that I think accurately represent the experience of going to an all-girls’ school:

1. Heated class discussions and opinionated individuals were plentiful.

At my school, passion for education and any subject material was encouraged. In high school, there were no guys to dominate the conversation so I didn’t realize until college that when controversial or philosophical conversations come up, male classmates are typically the ones to dominate them. I felt disoriented for the first two weeks of class hearing guys speak so much, not used to the balance of voices being shifted in their favor.

2. Girls you barely spoke to and comforted, saw you at your worst. And it went both ways.

There was no shame in crying when you had a bad day, and everyone knew what to do when they heard crying in the next stall over. Despite the (somewhat true) notion that gossip spreads quickly in an all-girls school, we knew which secrets to keep. It was understood that the school functioned like an emotional support network and that everyone had their struggles. So the fact that so-and-so had a breakdown between classes the other morning wasn’t something everyone needed to know.

3. Feminism and women’s studies were on the syllabus.

There may not have been a dedicated class, but these topics made their way into curriculum anyways. We discussed intersectionality, the progress of women’s rights, media representation, and the invention of birth control. These were things that should be discussed in all classrooms, but these topics were more approachable within an all-female group.

4. There’s (still) a certain love-hate relationship with your school you can’t quite explain.

We've all gotten the question “Do you wish you went to a co-ed school?” Well, not really. There were times when we all wished we were better versed in talking to boys. There were days where seven years of constant time together felt like too much. There were days when going to a “normal” school seemed a lot easier and like the smarter choice. But as I’ve already stated, going to an all-girls school gave me too much for me to be willing to trade it for anything else.

Having now gone through a semester of college, I see now that my fears about being unprepared for the real world were unnecessary. Because while we may not have talked to boys every day, as we have to in college, we were shaped into strong people who are able to stand on their own. We are educated, prepared, and confident young women, in the classroom and in life.

I loved every minute of it, and I loved it all. So, to the school and the 77 girls who made me who I am today: thank you.

Going to an all-girls high school is one of the most unique experiences you could ever have. Not only are you constantly surrounded by laughs and love, you share a sense of unity and friendship with those girls that will last for the rest of your life. I loved my all-girls school and would not have wanted my high school experience to be any different.

Even though most people who haven't attended an all-girls school won’t understand why it means so much to me, I am so proud of what attending an all-girls school has taught me.

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