Maine Girls’ Academy will expand to include seventh- and eighth-grade students beginning with the 2018 academic year, according to Amy Jolly, the head of school.

“We firmly believe girls need us at this age,” Jolly said this week. “We will take what are often considered the most challenging developmental years for a girl, and offer an encouraging, validating, and supportive environment.”

Jolly said the academy decided to offer a middle-school curriculum because “we saw a need in the marketplace for an all-girls environment for the middle-school years.”

In addition, she said, there was a “desire from current and prospective families to have their daughters at MGA sooner than high school.”

Maine Girls’ Academy is a private all-girls college preparatory school located on Stevens Avenue in Portland.

Kristen Dow, an alumna of the school when it was Catherine McAuley High School, agreed.

She said she and her husband “cannot wait to send our (younger daughter to MGA) next year for seventh grade. The opportunity for her to be a part of this amazing school for six years is one that’s not to be missed.”

An informational session on the new middle school program will be held at Thursday at 631 Stevens Ave.

Jolly said the school is “fortunate to (already) have several faculty members with extensive experience educating this age group,” but also said new hires would be made as necessary.

She said that middle school “takes a certain kind of educator, one who will embrace the complexity and nuance of this age group, and we are lucky to have current faculty who are clamoring for the chance to teach seventh- and eighth-grade students.”

At the middle school level, Jolly said, “each student has unique needs, primary of which is having a close rapport with their teachers where (they can) develop the confidence to take intellectual risks and learn at their fullest potential.”

Jolly said MGA hopes to enroll 15 to 18 middle school girls for the fall of 2018, with a plan to grow the program in years to come.

But, she also said, “Our small-school model facilitates relationship-building, which is at the heart of learning for girls.”

Jolly said there is a big difference between educating middle-schoolers and high school students.

“Developmentally, middle school is an amazing time of explosive cognitive and social-emotional growth,” she said. But for girls, it’s even more so, “with dramatic changes occurring in (their) brains and bodies.”

That means, Jolly said, that “there is a huge opportunity to maximize academic and leadership growth” at this age, particularly for girls.

She said the addition of middle-schoolers should also benefit the high school students enrolled at MGA.

“The addition of seventh and eighth grades provides an amazing opportunity for our high school girls to step up as mentors and leaders,” Jolly said. “They are already leading conversations on how they want to welcome and integrate the middle school students into our community.”

Even so, she said it’s the intent of the administration to “create a balance of integration with our high school students while providing middle school students their own space to learn, grow, and lead.”

In general, she said, “We already have evidence that this expansion is invigorating our school, as we’ve seen over a 50 percent increase in interest by prospective students.”

Along with expanding to include seventh- and eighth-grade students, Jolly said MGA also intends to offer the Coastal Studies for Girls program as part of its curriculum.

Coastal Studies for Girls has offered a residential semester school and summer camp in Freeport for several years.

“We are delighted” that the addition of MGA will allow even more girls “to experience the powerful combination of science and leadership education,” Jennifer Mathews, the interim head of school for the coastal studies program, said this week.

“MGA girls pursue STEM-related majors at twice the national average, so it’s natural for us to want to grow Maine-related opportunities for field research, leadership development, and critical thinking,” Jolly said about the new partnership.

“The addition of the program developed by Coastal Studies for Girls is just one more way that we are strengthening our school and continuing to make the case for (an all) girls’ education,” she added.

See this story in The Forecaster.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:40 a.m. on Nov. 15, 2017 to clarify that the added classes would be for 7th and 8th grade.

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