Greenwich Sentinel: The Little Women Advantage

Greenwich Sentinel: The Little Women Advantage

This article, authored by Assistant Head Linda Vasu, originally appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel. Please visit the newspaper's website to read more contributed articles from Sacred Heart Greenwich faculty. 

Little Women. Again. First published in 1868. Never out of print. Scores of multimedia adaptations — radio, stage, an opera, a musical, silent films, black and white, color. For 150 years, Louisa May Alcott’s text has endured as an iconic rite of passage in young girls’ lives, proffering keys to an imagined world of female intellectualism, strength, and agency.

Little Women. Again. How come? Still there: firelit domestic interiors and neighborhood poverty. And dreams to surpass gender restrictions burning brighter than ever. What’s new? The cultural moment. The 2020 iteration reframes women’s quest for agency, ongoing since the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention that launched the women’s rights movement.

This version presents a dynamic, future-forward narrative. There are gender-fluid fashion statements: vests, waistcoats, flowing skirts and scarves, eyelet blouses, laced boots. Director Greta Gerwig’s innovative vision re-imagines Louisa May Alcott’s sisterhood as women of strength, with aspirational goals that defy traditional hierarchies of power. These March women are set free to set their own standards of excellence.

Key themes? Ambition, practicality, self-efficacy, and problem-solving. Amy March is reinvented as a calculating strategist. Freethinking Marmee wrestles with anger in her heart. And adventuresome Jo negotiates both marriage, a lucrative entrepreneurial publishing deal, and opens a school to channel her wisdom for future generations.

Time has moved slowly for women’s rights. But not in women’s education, where all-girls’ schools like Sacred Heart Greenwich have always cultivated an atmosphere for girls to thrive. So how do girls thrive? We empower girls to explore, to dig deep, to become their very best selves so that by graduation, they’re prepared to forge their own paths and take the lead. This is our superpower.

Couple that with professional growth opportunities for teachers that infuse girl-centered research into a robust liberal arts core curriculum. Partnerships and programming hone leadership skills. Student-centered pedagogy creates relevant, immersive, and engaging learning experiences designed just for girls. All-girls education intentionally inspires bold, collaborative approaches to solving problems, with empathy and understanding. These are the traits nurtured in an all-girls environment.

I asked my high school aged English students about the advantage of an all-girls education. Their responses: communication, relationships, risk-taking. Chances to develop individually because everyone is on equal footing. Higher self-confidence inside and outside the classroom. The ability to share opinions and ideas freely without judgment.

So what does this look like? In an eighth grade computer science class, using the design-thinking process, girls identify and address a need within the school by creating, developing, and testing their own apps. They pitch their ideas to peers and teachers. In machine learning classes, teams crowdsource data to develop a Tourist Information Assistant and a Library Recommendation Model. The girls drive all of this.

Preschool through grade 12 students visit the state-of-the-art Hardey Observatory to view the sun. The astronomy teacher instructs the girls to operate the dome, telescope and cameras. Elementary aged girls work together brainstorming active verbs and vivid describers to craft poems based on their experience of wonder. The girls drive this too.

In AP Literature, students collaborate using math and computational thinking to deconstruct and analyze characters in Hamlet. They discover that Ophelia has 58 speech lines; Hamlet has 358. The data is clear; they analyze the evidence, claiming that Ophelia is dominated by patriarchal “mansplaining.” They argue that she is clever and speaks in botanical code to express her voice and her intelligence. Yet again, the girls drive this.

In my role as faculty member and as head of preschool through grade 12 curriculum, I observe on a daily basis the growth and development of young women with the habits of mind and skills of expert critical and creative thinkers. They take on challenges. They take risks with ideas. They are courageous speakers for themselves and others. They reach out to help others: in service programs, in global studies and international exchanges, in the arts, in science research, in theology, ethics, and philosophical thinking.

Each girl finds her voice. She discovers the power. She finds mentors. She is a leader. She becomes an expert in the room. She understands the relationship between the classroom and the importance of caring for the world. This is the Little Women Advantage.

Linda Vasu is the Assistant Head for Curriculum at Sacred Heart Greenwich and a member of the Upper School English and world literature faculty.