Head of school Elizabeth English. Photo by Westside People
Head of The Archer School for Girls talks about empowering young women and the school’s new IDEA LAB
By David Rosenfeld
Pass by on Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood and you’re likely to miss it. Behind two iron gates is the beautiful 1930s campus of The Archer School for Girls. The only non-sectarian girls school on the Westside, grades 6-12, launched its IDEA Lab earlier this year, which offers students the chance to experiment with engineering technology they might see in the real world. That is, if they choose to enter the fields of technology and engineering.
Research shows girls who attend single-sex schools are more likely to go into industries related to math and science, a full 13 percent compared to 6 percent from coed schools. A Forbes survey of top 12 women at Fortune 500 companies found eight of them attended an all-girl school, and up to 25 percent of the female members of Congress went to all-girl schools.
“I think girls who go to all-girl schools are superbly prepared to compete at the highest levels and see each other as leaders,” said head of school Elizabeth English. “We are literally educating the future female leaders of the country.”
For English, the benefits of all-female education became clear at her first teaching job after graduate school at the nearly 200-year-old Emma Willard School in Troy, New York.
“I was very skeptical of the concept of a girls school at first,” English said. “I had gone to coed public schools and I thought this has to be irrelevant.” She began to notice something after just six months, that there was something unmistakably powerful about the girls who were going to this school.
“They were comfortable in their own skin and expressing divergent opinions,” English said. “And I was struck by this.” It was about that time Carol Gilligan, a psychology professor at Harvard University, was conducting research at the school studying the benefits of single-sex education.
“Some of her research resulted in a phrase we use a lot called the ‘chilly climate,’ which describes a coed environment for girls where we call on boys more, look at them more, give them more praise and interrupt them less,” English said. “Over a lifetime, that has a cumulative effect on women. It’s fascinating to me, once you’re conscious of it, you see it everywhere.”
Photo courtesy Tom Kalette.
At Archer, English hopes girls leave the school empowered. The school draws its 460 students from 92 different zip codes and awards $3 million in financial aid each year.
English said she realized after spending time at older schools on the east coast, that they were ill-equipped to affect change. It was completely different at Archer, where the entire faculty embraces new ways of teaching. In Los Angeles especially, the desire for girls to attend school in an environment they feel comfortable becomes even more important.
“LA can be a girl poisoning culture,” English said. “People want to protect their daughters if they are raising them here. What actually matters is that they find a passion and realize their intellectual and creative potential. That’s what people want for their daughters. They don’t want them spending an hour in the morning worrying about what they look like.”
Upper school director Samantha Coyne Donnel said working at Archer is incredibly rewarding. “I was interested in working in single sex education just from growing up,” she said. “You begin to notice there are certain barriers. The girls who graduate from Archer go out there and don’t pause to think whether they can do this or not.”
It’s that confidence, that lack of any self-doubt, which the entire staff at Archer is focused on fostering, said English, who’s work on the campus clearly extends from a deep passion she’s felt for a long time.
“I just wanted to make sure that if I did anything in my life it was to equip girls to be women who were unafraid to ascend and who had a consciousness about the odds,” she said. For more on the Archer School for Girls visit Archer.org.