Cincinnati happily clings to strong tradition of Catholic single-sex high schools

And that's not the norm around the country
What makes our Catholic high schools so popular?
What makes our Catholic high schools so popular?
Posted at 12:00 PM, Oct 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-30 12:00:07-04

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati has a long history of Catholic single-sex secondary schools, more so than the average U.S. city. Even with a few schools merging into co-ed environments decades ago, 10 single-sex schools within the Archdiocese of Cincinnati have maintained their identity -- and a mostly robust population of students.

Cincinnati is home to six Catholic girls schools: Seton, Mother of Mercy, McAuley, Mount Notre Dame, St. Ursula and Ursuline; and four boys schools: Elder, LaSalle, Moeller and St. Xavier.

There are also two single-sex high schools across the river within the Diocese of Covington: Covington Catholic for boys and Notre Dame Academy for girls.

Some of the schools have a level of control under the diocese, like LaSalle, while others are an independent entity or are run by their respective religious order, for example, the Jesuits at St. Xavier.

Most of these schools have a long history in Cincinnati. Some are 100-plus years old, and they all remain a popular option for people choosing a private high school.

But this isn't the norm across the country.

Sister Kathryn Ann Connelly, who served as the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati from 1983 until 2002, said Cincinnati is unique in its number of single-sex high schools, particularly single-sex schools that are run by the diocese, which is uncommon.

"It is kind of a phenomenon," Connelly said. "When I was superintendent I belonged to the National Catholic Teachers Association and, throughout the country, Cincinnati was pretty singular in that we had so many single-sex schools."

So why do students keep filling the halls at these single-sex schools?

From the perspective of the leaders of those schools, the advantages are clear.

"Every club and school organization has a girl as leader," said Craig Maliborski, St. Ursula's principal. "When you look at a co-ed setting, those leadership positions are, at best, split between boys and girls. Here at St. Ursula and other girls schools, every leadership position is open to girls, so they have more opportunity to be leaders in the activities they are involved in."

Moeller High School is one of four Catholic boys secondary schools in the Cincinnati region, along with Covington Catholic on the other side of the river. (Photo provided by Moeller High School)

Marshall Hyzdu, Moeller's president and a 1996 graduate of the school, spoke of a similar benefit at the all-boys school in terms of boys taking more of a risk and stepping into a leadership role they might not take on in a co-ed environment.

He also thinks boys are more apt to participate in academics and activities like the arts when they are in an all-boys environment, without worrying what their female classmates might think. The same can be said for the all-girls schools.

"They are more likely to ask questions and participate in class, and it allows them to focus on academics," Hyzdu said. "We educate the whole man -- mind, body and spirit -- all within this community of brothers."

The brotherhood or sisterhood cultivated at a single-sex high school is a common theme mentioned by school leaders.

Karen Klug White, Seton's principal and former teacher and graduate of the school, said parents recognize the benefit of same-sex schools as well. 

"They see students being each other's cheerleaders and helping each other when struggling and being positive for one another," White said. 

Maliborski acknowledged that boys and girls are very different, especially at the high school level, and said that single-sex schools allow teachers to tailor their teaching in a more specific manner when dealing with just girls or just boys in a classroom.

All-girls schools also have a beneficial impact on girls who are interested in typically male-dominated fields -- such as math or engineering. They aren't competing with boys in those classes and are more apt to pursue those fields.

Opponents of single-sex education typically suggest that students attending all-boys and all-girls schools are missing the normal social development that comes from co-ed schools.

The single-sex schools are aware of this, however, and seek to offer their students socialization with the opposite sex through school-sponsored dances and other activities. For example, the Elder and Mercy art clubs often join together for art shows or activities.

"The big difference is when they leave and go on to co-ed colleges or careers," Maliborski said. "But a single-sex environment really gives a girl an opportunity to more intimately find out who she is, what her strengths are and to develop those strengths. 

"When she gets to college or a career, she has a better foundation and is able to interact in those situations out of her strengths and successes."