January 2018 marks the beginning of our third year working with Central Catholic High School in San Antonio, Texas as a Center for Excellence in Educating Boys. Central Catholic, a school for boys in the Marianist tradition, located in San Antonio, Texas, is more than 150 years old. It is institutionally committed to raising boys into empathic and successful men of service. In the last decade, GI has been honored to partner with the school as Central Catholic became a Gurian Institute Model School six years ago and Center for Excellence in Educating Boys just over two years ago.
The Center for Excellence at the school is a hub for best practices in teaching, as well as a way for the school to outreach into the local and national community. As a Center for Excellence, Center Catholic practices innovations in these key areas of focus: building leadership among students; physical movement during learning; increased use of visual-spatial learning techniques; relationship building in all quadrants; environmental changes that include classroom changes for lighting and highly relevant learning; project-driven learning, especially in math/science, choice in literacy projects; and significant alteration in how discipline procedures advance among students and administrators.
Also at Central Catholic, the Center of Excellence designation has provided a way for professionals and parents throughout San Antonio and from elsewhere in the world to look at single-gender education that really works In the public debate about the single gender option, some people argue the pros, others the cons. Without proof, the latter constituency argues that single gender education doesn’t work.
From a raw data standpoint, it is hard to make this latter argument with fidelity to fact any more. If you glance at the Gurian Institute’s Success pages, you’ll see both coed and single gender schools and programs in the United States and Canada that show positive gains in test scores, grades, student behavior, and other markers. There are also numerous studies you can access online that echo our North American research. For instance, check out “Causal Effects of Single-Sex Schools on College Entrance Exams and College Attendance: Random Assignment in Seoul High Schools,” by Hyunjoon Park, Jere R. Behrman, and Jaesung Choi, Demography, April 2013, Vol. 50: 447-469.
The single gender schools and classrooms show positive gains in part because the teachers, staff, and parents are well trained in how to use the option most effectively. Girls’ self-esteem and leadership quality rises; STEM performance rises; relational aggression decreases. For boys, numerical gains in test scores, grades, and discipline referrals are often even more stark, as research has shown that boys are predominantly the students in difficulty in traditional classrooms throughout the world
Central Catholic’s enrollment has been rising for more than six years. It is a place the boys want to go and a place their parents want them to go. When I visited the school and the Center this last fall, President of Marianist University, Paul Garro, told me, “Our identity as a school is linked to our Marianist roots, single gender education, and best practices for boys and their families. We are devoted to this cause.” This devotion is displayed in classrooms, offices, hallways, the gym and grounds, data and test scores, and very importantly, buy-in among parents and kids.
Principal of the school, Eddie Ybarra, who initially contacted GI seven years ago, told me, “I believe we have the ‘secret sauce’–a single gender education. For this kind of education to work, as you know, we did a deep dive into brain-friendly teacher development, which has led to our teachers—who were already very instinctive in understanding boys–taking that understanding to the next level.”
GI Master Trainer and Indiana educator, Dr. Jim Weber, who provided classroom observations with me, agreed. “The most impressive thing here is the combination of the commitment to educating boys as boys and the buy-in to theory and practical strategies that really work.”
Jim and I met with five seniors to interview them on their experiences at Central Catholic over the last four years, including the last two years as a Center for Excellence. All of them agreed that “something really good has been happening here since we were freshmen.” One of them said, “The teachers and staff let us move around more, learn in our own ways, and don’t stress as much now about how we learn. We’re definitely learning better.”
We saw these innovations throughout the classrooms. In Velma Uriegas’ English class, for instance, the boys debated different parts of The Scarlet Letter in a motivating competition format that inculcated the book’s subtle ideas into their minds.
In Mr. Nelson’s World Government class, the boys led one another in brain breaks that gently and powerfully compelled each boy, even the shy ones, to move from follower to leader and back again.
In Mrs. Winston’s Geometry class, the boys created visual objects and spatial systems on the walls and ceiling that impressed geometric principles into the brain kinesthetically: moving book learning to deeper learning.
In Mr. Cassler’s English class, the boys augmented “book reports” with visual art and symbolic graphic essays about The Lord of the Flies.
In a national landscape in which there seems to be a battle between coeducation and single gender education, Central Catholic has stood fast and gone beyond to become a Center for Excellence in Teaching that others can observe and model from. The Center has reached out and in partnership with GI helped to train the Young Men’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio, as well as Providence Girls School.
I hope you will visit Central Catholic one day. See what they are doing there. Share their positive story with others. Enjoy the high level of student and teacher engagement the school has nurtured. Please reach out to us at the Gurian Institute, as well, if you think your school would benefit from our Model School and Center for Excellence partnerships. When students want to come to school, want to learn, want to put their cell phones down and pay attention, we have done something truly great not just for them but for everyone they will later touch as they become adults of service.
By Michael Gurian