Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 3, 2005
Students applaud 'girls only' rule
Jean Forest Academy stresses leadership, science, math, service
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Nicole Szymanowka wasn't too keen on going to an all-girls school, but now she is happy she enrolled.
"I think it would be easier to learn because there aren't so many distractions caused by boys," she said. "Boys can be a distraction to our learning."
Szymanowka, 11, is one of 52 Grade 7 students in the Jean Forest All Girls Junior High Leadership Academy, Edmonton Catholic's only all-girls' school.
The academy, named after Jean Forest, the former Edmonton Catholic School Board trustee, chairperson and member of the Senate, opened its doors in September in a renovated wing of St. Basil's School at 10210-115 Ave.
It held its opening ceremony Sept. 21. Forest, who spent most of the previous day with the girls, was in attendance.
"Our mission is to provide the finest Christ-centred learning environment, which inspires young women to develop in spirit, leadership, intellect, self-discovery and service," said St. Basil's assistant principal Jackie Dahlen, who runs the academy.
"So I guess our main goal is that these girls will be very confident young women when they leave us here in Grade 9."
Dahlen had hoped 48 girls would register for Grade 7 and is pleased that goal was surpassed. "It's had a very positive start," she said. Grade 8 will be added next year and Grade 9 the following year.
The academy, which focuses on leadership, sciences and math for girls, is a community-oriented program with a large service component, explained Dahlen. "The girls will go out into the community and work with, perhaps, inner-city children or the elderly," she said. "We are going to volunteer at the Glenrose, which is very close to us. There will be lots of service."
The Jean Forest Academy features a purple "Girl's Lounge" full of computers, couches and reading material on inspiring women.
"All of our resources are brand new," Dahlen said. "We have state of the art brand new computers and probably one of the nicest junior high science labs in Edmonton. Everything is brand new and it's the best you can buy."
Szymanowka didn't want to come to the academy because of the uniform but that feeling is already a thing of the past. "Having a uniform is easier," said Szymanowka. "You don't have to worry about the latest (fashion) trends."
Uniforms are mandatory but come in trendy, affordable styles and colours, with several skirt and pant options. Variations on the uniform include a longer skirt, pants or capris.
"At first I wasn't too fond of the uniform either," says Tasha Molly, 12, who is dressed in a knee-length khaki skirt, white blouse and black cardigan bearing the academy crest.
"I didn't want to wear it but now I'm used to just getting up in the morning, changing into my uniform and going to school."
As for the lack of boys at the academy, Molly said she is better off without them.
"Now it is easy for me to learn because boys seriously are a distraction," she said. "When I go to St. Basil's and I see boys hanging around the lockers and fooling around, I think about how much I don't miss that distraction."
She said now it is much easier for her to voice her opinion about something or talk about her feelings in front of the class because "there are no boys to make fun of me when I'm speaking."
Szymanowka agrees: "If I have a problem, I kind of feel more comfortable to come forward and ask my teacher about it. I feel a lot more comfortable in an all-girl environment."
Research has shown that junior high girls can focus better on their studies when boys aren't part of their learning environment. "When girls are together and no boys are around, they're very collaborative because they're not competing for the boys' attention," Dahlen explained. "They also have space to figure out who they are."
Maria Jurczuk, 13, said she finds it easier to concentrate and to participate in the gender-specific environment. "I think this will help us build up our confidence and independence," she said. "Here we are learning to appreciate great women like Jean Forest and maybe when we are older we can accomplish big things too."
Jurczuk also feels safe at the academy. "I feel like there is like a safe environment here; like there won't be any pressure to do drugs or anything."
Teaching is also better than in regular schools "because teachers have more time to spend with you and if they don't, they'll make sure they'll get you after class, after school or at lunch," noted Molly.