Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls

Like a close-knit family, students and faculty at Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls set aside time to share news, recognize accomplishments and deepen relationships. This happens twice daily: at the school-wide Morning Meeting and at lunchtime in smaller advisory groups. The focus here is on educating the whole girl, with strong supports in place to ensure each student builds self-esteem, develops healthy relationships and makes good choices, says executive director Mary Stillman.

The first all-girls public charter school in Missouri, Hawthorn offers a high-quality, college-preparatory education to middle- and high-school students living in the city of St. Louis. It opened in 2015 with 150 sixth- and seventh-grade girls. Each year, a new sixth grade will be added until 2020, when the school will be fully enrolled with about 450 students. There are no tuition or admissions requirements to attend, and admission is awarded on a lottery basis. Currently about 95 percent of Hawthorn’s students are black, and 75 percent qualify for free and reduced lunches, Stillman says. The school relies on community support. “Although charter schools are publicly funded, there is a gap of about $5,000 per student between the public funds we receive and the amount we spend,” she adds.

To give students a strong educational foundation, Hawthorn keeps classes small, and its STEM-focused curriculum emphasizes project-based learning. Each school day, in addition to other subjects, girls take one science and two math courses, as well as engineering and computer coding courses. “Whether they go into a STEM field or not, students today need to have a good foundation in these areas in order to compete for high-paying jobs,” Stillman says.

Real-world applications to classroom lessons are a large part of Hawthorn’s teaching philosophy. In a recent math unit on ratios and proportions, students were asked to imagine they owned a catering company and to put together a proposed budget and plan for a party, including recipes adapted to feed 100. “They created a budget that showed what percentage they would spend on food, decorations and entertainment, and they presented their proposal,” Stillman says. “The group with the best proposal got to produce their party for classmates.”

Beyond succeeding academically, Hawthorn wants its students to blossom into strong leaders, Stillman says. To accomplish this, it offers many support services, including after-school tutoring and a robust selection of extracurriculars. “In an all-girl environment, girls rise up to the occasion, take healthy risks in the classroom and aren’t distracted by some of the things you see in a coed setting,” she notes. “Everything that happens is about our girls and giving them opportunities to discover their voice and practice their leadership skills in whatever shape they may come.”

Because many of its students will be the first in their family to attend college, Stillman says Hawthorn also helps them reach and prepare for the next step, helping girls envision their future through college counseling services, visits to local college campuses, and presentations by college students and professionals from a variety of fields. In addition, students from Washington University (Hawthorn’s institutional partner) provide regular tutoring.

Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls is the only public all-girls charter school in Missouri. It provides middle- and high-school students with a college preparatory, STEM-focused education. For more information, call 314.361.5323 or visit

Pictured: Hawthorn offers students a STEM-focused education.
Photo: Tim Parker Photography
Cover design by Jon Fogel | Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography

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