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Q&A with Dr. Patty L. Fagin, Head of School at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart

When was Stuart Country Day School founded and what is the history behind the campus? 

Stuart was founded in 1963 by parents who wanted a faith-based and rigorous education for their daughters. They appealed to the Religious of the Sacred Heart to open a school that welcomes and embraces students of all faiths and backgrounds. Today, Stuart continues to thrive on the same foundational principals of faith, knowledge, social justice, community, and personal growth.

The architecture of Stuart is very special. Carefully situated on 55 wooded acres in the Princeton Ridge, our building is designed to meld into the space and nature of the surroundings. With floor-to-ceiling windows, hallways and classrooms look out into wooded areas, and boulders strewn throughout the building and the grounds help to blur the lines between the inside and outdoors. We like to say it’s a, “peaceful place for girls to make some noise.”

Our beautiful campus was designed by Professor Jean Labatut, who was director of graduate studies in architecture at Princeton University in 1963. A little known fact is that renowned Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier was a student of Labatut’s at Princeton, and as a young graduate he served as Labatut’s designer/drafter on the Stuart project.

Why an all-girls education?

I think that anyone who has experienced an all-girl education realizes the importance of the freedom this environment gives girls to develop as young women. You don’t have to shy away from speaking what you believe to be important.

The skills and confidence girls gain from an all-girl environment in elementary through high school are carried forward in life. Girls who attend girls’ schools are more likely to hold leadership positions, pursue high academic achievement, and are six times as likely to be interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Why are you focusing on STEM and girls at Stuart?

We know from data that the greatest growth in future jobs and earnings will be in the STEM fields. Though girls surpass boys in nearly every measure of academic success, there is still a significant gender gap in the number of women pursuing college degrees and careers in STEM.

New research, as reported by the New York Times earlier this year, tells us that girls, by age 6, already think they are not as smart as boys, and therefore are less interested in trying things they perceive to require “brilliance.”  This is one area where Stuart’s all-girl education really makes a difference.

It’s crucial for girls to know–from the earliest years of elementary school–that math and science can be exciting. Stuart faculty are in tune to this and are dedicated to the way girls learn. Through individualized instruction, Stuart girls develop the confidence to try difficult things and know that with trial and error, they can succeed.

The expansion of STEM at Stuart since 2011 has yielded results. Thirty-five percent of our 2017 graduates plan to pursue a degree in a STEM field.

What is the Stuart Institute for Finance and Economics?

Entrepreneurship, finance, and economics are also areas that are stereotypically thought of as fields requiring “brilliance” and where women are underrepresented. Through the Stuart Institute of Finance and Economics (SIFE), financial and economics concepts are integrated into the academic curriculum at Stuart, beginning in kindergarten and extending through senior year. Our goal is to graduate financially literate, capable, and confident women able to lead Fortune 500 companies, a sustainable farm, or any other career they choose.

Describe the intent and history behind the Visiting Author Program.

At Stuart we believe that every student, from the youngest preschooler to the graduating senior, should read and hear the best contemporary writing of her day.

We have hosted an incredibly diverse range of best-selling and award-winning authors, including Pulitzer Prize winners Paul Muldoon and Jhumpa Lahiri and best-selling authors Jonathan Safran Foer, Jane Hirshfield, and Mark Salzman. The picture books, poems for girls, essays, fiction, and poetry collections of Naomi Shihab Nye shaped and inspired English and language arts classes, and novelist Edwidge Danticat gave our students a social awareness of the Haitian-American experience. In 2016, we were honored to work with the recently-appointed U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, and 2017 was a special treat as we were all, faculty and students alike, enchanted by the 21st Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, who writes poetry, novels, and children’s books from his Mexican American immigrant perspective.

What role does leadership play at Stuart?

Through the National Center for Girls’ Leadership at Stuart we are able to share our expertise and serve as a resource to parents, educators, and girls throughout the world. Our first #LEADLIKEAGIRL conference at Stuart in April drew over 900 K-12 girls, parents, and mentor women to campus to showcase and inspire girls’ confidence and creativity in STEM, entrepreneurship, and leadership. The outpouring of people from across the country who wanted to participate, to be a part of it, surprised even us. #LEADLIKEAGIRL filled a void, and really struck a chord in terms of what’s become a budding conversation around girls’ leadership, women in entrepreneurship, in STEM, and girls education in general.

How are Stuart girls encouraged to establish a global perspective?

There are so many ways Stuart girls learn about the world, and around them. Our school is a member of the global community of Sacred Heart schools, with 24 Network schools in North America, and over 150 around the world. Through this vast network, we partner with schools around the globe to give our girls academic and cultural exchange experiences.

Just to name a few, this year our girls went on academic exchange to locations in Peru, France, Ireland, Australia, and Japan, and their host students have come to live and study amongst our community here at Stuart.

Additionally, our immediate Stuart community is incredibly culturally diverse. Our families, faculty, and staff hail from over 50 countries and we celebrate and honor different traditions in so many ways, including our annual Flag Ceremony.

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