I was fortunate enough to go to an all-girls school from kindergarten to 8th grade. Kindergarten me absolutely loved all my peers like family and I used to say I would never leave my school for anything. But as time went on and as I spent more time in the same building with the same people, I got tired. Lower school had brought me so much joy, but middle school came around, and the environment I loved grew colder. Sometimes I look back at my time in an all-girls school and realize how the internalized toxicity made my view of it unfavorable, but in actuality, going to an all-girls school taught me to be ambitious and embrace every aspect of myself.
The environment at an all-girls school became quite toxic and competitive as we grew older. I guess we all thought we had to be on top, whether that be socially or academically. Everyone constantly talked about grades and became anxious to know each others’ scores or gossiped about someone dating a boy from another school. Some even studied others’ reactions to test results to predict whether they got a good grade. This toxicity only grew as grades became a bigger deal. Not only were grades highly contentious but unspoken social pressures existed, such as having to go to parties and date people to prove you had a social life. I prioritized my Friday sports practices over going to a party, and it became awkward returning to school the Monday after when girls tried to flaunt the fact that they were at the party. The suffocating atmosphere that my grade somewhat cultivated at school became a burden as people were forced to believe we had something to prove to each other.
Despite the toxicity, some things were still good. Throughout the years, our teachers taught us about women’s empowerment, which formed a strong bond between us. We engaged in projects like “A Hero in a Can” or “Women in STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) to teach us about all the female role models in the world. This deepened our self-worth and understanding of how women have been, and still are, oppressed in society. We learned how to fight back, how women were treated in the past, and how we could work together toward making our futures better. These projects brought each of us so much joy and pride about what we were capable of. This was one of the things I loved most about my old school: everyone had this one thing in common and we all were encouraged to fight for a better future for—and with—each other. I would not have obtained this pride and courage I have to speak up for myself if not for my all-girls school.
I’d like to think that the teaching of women’s empowerment helped each grade foster a special family bond. We all went through what felt like everything together. No matter the fights, or the gossip, we were a family, especially throughout my lower school career. We knew everything about everyone, but there was an odd sense of comfort in it. I could be completely open with everyone, and they would be there for me when I needed it. With a grade of around 60 girls, not everyone was going to be your most trusted friend, but when it came down to it, we all knew when to support each other.
I truly loved my old school. It was a magical time for me when I was exposed to women’s empowerment and loved by everyone in my community, and it allowed me to grow into someone who is proud and ambitious without fear. But as I grew older, I was shown the toxicity that grew alongside us. We grew competitive, and our bond that was meant to tighten oftentimes felt like it was weakening instead. Yet looking back, I was truly given such an indispensable childhood at an all-girls school, one that encouraged me to represent myself and embrace who I am, and I am forever grateful for that.