Photo by Dermot Connolly
St. Laurence High School seniors Mary Shirazi (from left), Dan Carroll and Ashley Murphy talked about their first few days as the first co-ed class at the Burbank school.
There was a big change at St. Laurence High School in Burbank when the fall semester began last week. Girls are now enrolled for the first time in the history of the 56-year-old school, and by all accounts, the co-ed transition is going smoothly.
The change came after St. Laurence opened its doors to more than 140 sophomores, juniors and seniors from neighboring Queen of Peace High School, which closed its doors in June. So now, instead looking across the parking lot at each other, the girls and boys are now walking the same halls.
Mike Madera, director of communications at St. Laurence, noted that this year, the boys and girls are in separate classes for core courses, such as English, math and science. But some elective courses are co-ed.
Next fall, the school will start accepting both boys and girls as freshmen. St. Laurence’s plan for the next two years is to educate freshmen and sophomores as separately as possible under one roof before moving them into co-educational classes as juniors and seniors. So it will be a few years before all classes are fully co-ed.
“My big concern was whether the environment in the school was going to change. But the first couple of days went really well,” said Dan Carroll, a senior from Orland Park, who serves as parliamentarian of the Student Council. “I’m still in class with my friends, and we had a few events over the summer, so I have been able to meet and make friends with some of the girls, too.”
Carroll said the process of bringing the students together began last spring, so everyone had time to get used to it. He added that the boys also were warned to watch their language and not act inappropriately around the girls.
Seniors Mary Shirazi, of Orland Park, and Ashley Murphy, of Chicago’s Clearing neighborhood, both said they were grateful that St. Laurence decided to open its doors to Queen of Peace students, making it as easy as possible for friends to stay together for their senior year. But they acknowledged having some initial concerns about how they would be accepted.
“I was definitely apprehensive about going into a new school. But everyone was so welcoming. I feel so comfortable here,” said Murphy.
“I was really skeptical at first,” agreed Shirazi. “My big concern was the number of boys being so much higher than the girls, and whether they would want us here. But the welcome we got is beyond what I could have imagined.”
To ensure that the girls would have equal representation, there are currently two student councils, with boys and girls each holding the five traditional student council positions of president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and parliamentarian. Murphy is president of the girls’ council, and Carroll and Shirazi are both parliamentarians.
“I think we really work together,” said Carroll. He said the girls have already helped a lot with the planning for homecoming.
“Compared to when I was student council last year, we are way more organized with the planning for homecoming. It is being held (Sept. 23), and we already have a theme and a lot of the activities planned,” said Carroll.
“Everyone is looking forward to it, because we will not be coming as guests this year. It will be our homecoming, too,” said Shirazi.
“It is a good feeling. I feel so comfortable here. As the first co-ed class, we have to set the standard for everyone who comes after us,” said Murphy.
The boys and girls are bonding over sports as well. All three said that earlier in the week, the atmosphere in the St. Laurence gym was great when the first girls volleyball team took to the floor.
Carroll said that being part of the first co-ed graduating class means a lot to him, especially since he is the second generation of his family to attend St. Laurence. His father, Tim Carroll, is a 1989 graduate, and four uncles also are alumni. And now, his younger brother just started his freshman year.
“It is historic, and it is fun to be a part of all that,” he said.
“This hybrid process of becoming fully co-ed is sort of unusual,” said Madera, who graduated from St. Laurence himself in 2010. “But we got a lot of positive responses from alumni about our plans when we sent out surveys and questionnaires asking for their input last year. That was a relief because I came up with those surveys and I had some sleepless nights worrying about how it would be received,” he said with a grin.