|Founded in 1996 as one of the country's
few all-girl public schools, Young Women's Leadership School has quickly
gained a reputation as a no-nonsense bastion of academically challenging
college prep for girls who believe they can do better without the distraction
and competition of having boys in their classes.
Occupying three floors of an office building on 106th Street between
Lexington and Park Avenues, the school's classrooms have framed art prints
on the walls, cozy sofas, and tables instead of desks, with commanding
views of Central Park. As a small school, the course offerings are limited.
Sports consist of badminton games in the all-purpose room.
Girls wear uniforms -- plaid skirts or navy trousers with blue blazers.
You hear a lot of Excuse me's from girls in the halls. "They are
treated with respect, and they are respectful in return," says Ana Torres,
vice-president of the PTA, whose granddaughter attends.
But there's a relaxed feel to the school as well. Girls call teachers
by their first names (except for the Japanese teacher -- because in Japan,
only family names are used). Instead of in a noisy cafeteria, girls eat
lunch in a place they call their "dining room" -- with round tables ideal
Classes offer an unusual degree of discussion and debate, with a strong
emphasis on writing. Some have a feminist twist. In an eleventh-grade
humanities class, girls studying Enlightenment philosophers read an excerpt
from Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
For homework, they had to create an imaginary dialogue between Jean-Jacques
Rousseau and Wollstonecraft on the role of women in society.
The school is the brainchild of Ann Rubenstein Tisch, a journalist who
believes that single-sex education is an important way to counter what
researchers see as a crisis of confidence that strikes young adolescent
girls. "It seems to be where the unraveling begins, right out of elementary
school," says Tisch.
How hard is it to get in? Priority is given to students in District
4 (Harlem and East Harlem). There are a few openings for students entering
in ninth grade. Students who want to be considered for admission must
list the school as their first choice.
Downsides: The school's greatest draw -- no boys -- is also its
greatest drawback. Staff turnover is also a problem.
Guidance and college counseling: A full-time college counselor
meets weekly with each girl starting in her junior year. The counselor
takes the girls on overnight trips to visit colleges, including Yale,
Smith, and Connecticut College