- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

AURORA, Colo. — For the first time in its 126-year history, the all-male Regis Jesuit High School here will admit girls when the school year begins today. But it’s not going coed.

It’s going coinstitutional.

The girls will be considered Regis students, but they’ll attend classes in their own building, adjacent to the boys’ school, with a separate faculty and administration.

The goal is to retain the benefits of a single-sex institution while offering a Jesuit education to girls. The girls’ division becomes the first all-girl Jesuit high school in North America, as well as a potential model for schools searching for a compromise between coed and single-sex education.

“We think coinstitutional is the buzzword for the education of the future,” said the Rev. Walter Sidney, Regis’ president.

Regis counts itself among the first schools in the nation to embark on the coinstitutional experiment. The concept may be revolutionary, but in many ways it’s a natural for schools trying to retain their single-sex identity without excluding anyone.

“I’m a huge fan of single-sex education for boys and girls,” said Jane Schissel, who will teach social studies at the girls’ division. “For boys, I think it’s great, because they can be who they are and not feel like they have to act tough. For the girls, they get the attention they need and deserve.”

Father Sidney was on hand to greet the 175 new female students as they signed up for classes last week in the cafeteria at a separate-but-equal registration day. Despite grumbling from some boys about the female invasion, the handful of boys who turned up to help the girls check out books were uniformly enthusiastic.

“I think it’s a great idea. I have a little sister, and I’d like to see her come. It’s a really great experience,” said Wesley McGehee, a 15-year-old sophomore. “If they were going coed, then that takes away from the camaraderie, but the girls are going to be at a different school, so it’s not going to change.”

At first, the idea of admitting girls received a cool reception. Five years ago, when parents first broached the idea of opening up the school to girls, there was an outcry from some alumni who feared the school’s all-male tradition would be lost. Some grumblings remain, but school officials said the current atmosphere is mostly positive and supportive.

Advocates have argued that the Denver-area has far fewer opportunities for girls to receive a Catholic education. There are 550 more seats for boys entering Catholic high school than for girls, meaning that many girls had to settle for public or secular private schools.

At that time, Regis had just bought 35 acres of land adjacent to its campus in the south Denver suburbs with the intention of expanding. Building a separate girls’ school on the other side of the football field emerged as a solution that satisfied most parties.

“I can understand why some alumni would object, because they found something here in terms of friendship and brotherhood, and they don’t want to lose that,” Father Sidney said. “But we’re not concerned. What we’ll do is replicate the experience for girls that we’ve been providing for boys.”

Many girls in the first freshman and sophomore classes say they applied to Regis because their older brothers went there.

“I really like Regis a lot. My brother went here, and he had a really great experience,” said 15-year-old Natalie Adrian as she balanced a box full of books.

Kelly McCarthy, 15, said her father urged her to apply to Regis over other Catholic schools because of the Jesuit influence.

“I thought it would be better because my Dad thinks that the Jesuits are really good at teaching,” she said. “Plus, my brother had gone to Regis, and he made a lot of good friends.”

As for the boys, the girls were confident they would adjust to the new arrangement.

“I know some boys are disappointed that we’re taking away from the tradition of having all boys,” said Brooke Tidball, 14. “But I think they’re a little excited, too.”

For the first year, the girls will attend school off-site at St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church in Greenwood Village while their building is under construction. Ultimately, the school plans to accommodate 750 girls with its 850 boys.

The sexes will have a few opportunities to mingle after school: The cross-country team and band are expected to go coed, and both divisions are expected to turn out for football games, dances and other campus events.

Otherwise, the two divisions will operate with two of everything, from Model United Nations clubs to student governments. The first girl to register, 14-year-old Jocelyn Story, said she hoped the boys would make an exception at football games for the pompom squad.

“They have their own [male] cheerleaders, but we’re really hoping they let us perform at half-time,” she said. “If not, we’ll just have to work on them.”

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