As a parent and teacher at St. Christopher’s, I often get asked “Why St. Chris?” “Do you really think single sex education is needed in the Lower School?” It’s hard to put it into words, and is often one of those things that you don’t get — until you do.
I remember being at a party a few years back and a good friend of mine was looking at her options for schools for her three boys. When someone mentioned St. Christopher’s, her response was “ Oh, there is already too much testosterone in my house, my boys need girls around to even them out!” I just smiled and nodded when inside my voice was saying, “Oh, you don’t get it, you really don’t get it. It’s not like that at all, in fact, it’s the complete opposite!” But of course, all of these wonderful responses came to me that night as I was trying to fall asleep. Don’t you hate when that happens?
So let me try to explain.
I have taught for 20 years in a variety of classrooms– co-ed, single sex, low income, high income, urban, suburban and pretty much everything in between. Though each classroom is unique and special in its own way, you can pretty much guarantee that they all generally have the same players. By that I mean you have your leaders, athletes, artists, musicians, builders, book lovers, actors, etc. Within those roles you also have your nurturers, empathizers, spiritual leaders and cheerleaders.
When you are in a co-ed environment you cut these roles in half and as you can probably guess, many of these roles divide naturally by gender. It just happens. For many children it is easier to lean towards what is expected, rather than where their natural curiosity takes them.
What happens when you take gender away and teach in a boys’ school environment is that it opens up the classroom for all roles to be filled by boys! They have the unique chance to discover exactly WHO they are in a completely safe and comfortable environment and at a young age. Yes, we have our athletes which is a huge part of our school environment, but we also have choir soloists, chapel leaders, actors, artists, service learners, writers, and more. Our boys are asked to fill every role in the classroom; it just may look different in the eyes of a boy.
One of my favorite examples of this is when I had a young boy a few years back who was unable to play on the playground due to a bad leg break. After two weeks bound to a wheelchair and a few more in a walker, he had just about all he could take of board games and books during recess. I noticed a little commotion over on the playground and I saw my little friend in his cast hobbling up the playground stairs surrounded by his friends, one holding his walker and the others cheering him on as he climbed the stairs and took a ride down the slide. You may see this as “boys will be boys.” I see it as boys showing empathy, cheerleading, compassion and a little risk-taking to help their friend who hadn’t seen the playground in weeks.
Another example of this is simply the class parties that my boys choose when they earn them. I can’t help but think that in co-ed environment, these boys would choose a kickball or extra recess parties. What I love about the boys’ parties is their attempt to include everyone in our special day. Here are just a few of examples …
- A Dude Perfect, bring your stuffed animal to school, popcorn party
- Free choose with Mrs. Taylor’s art supplies, bring your baseball/football cards party
- My personal favorite ~ the disco ball dance party, bring your matchbox car or stuffed animal, BUILD party
Yes, many of these boys are rough and tumble, get over arguments quickly and love their sports, but they are also sensitive and sweet, nurturing and creative with an inclusivity that is truly special.
One of my favorite things about St. Christopher’s as I watch my students grow is how the “whole boy” emerges as they discover who they are. I love seeing the football players dressed in their gear singing with the Glee Club at the start of the game. Or the sports loving boy smiling from ear to ear dancing at Minds in Motion. Or the sweet and sensitive, comic writing boy sharing his love of the Buffalo Bills with his teacher. I can’t help but think that we have a little bit to do with that in the Lower School as we nurture and love these boys to love themselves, and each other, for who they truly are.
So the next time I’m asked “Why St. Christopher’s?” I think I’ll be ready.