By Samantha SLAYBACK
Many local residents know about the nearby all-girls Catholic school Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy nestled in the hills surrounding the Rose Bowl. What many people may not know is that FSHA began as an all-girls Catholic boarding school and still houses young women from all over the world, including China, New Zealand, Mongolia, Mexico, Thailand and Korea, to name a few countries.
The buildings of FSHA were originally opened in 1927 as a hotel and resort, but closed shortly after the beginning of the Great Depression. FSHA officially opened as a school in 1931 exclusively serving boarding students. It did not begin accepting day students until 20 years later in 1951.
Today, the school teaches both boarding students and day students in the same environment and with the same curriculum. They are taught general education as well as religion in one-hour, 20-minute classes, which better prepares them for college lectures.
“The school has a focus on leadership and spirituality, and really developing well-rounded women who are ready to take on the world,” said FSHA Digital Communications Manager Rachel Russell.
The girls studying abroad are given room and board in one of the former hotel buildings across the street from what is currently the FSHA administration building. The building includes all of their rooms, a courtyard, several terrace views overlooking the city, a common room and a dining room.
The faculty is in charge of assigning freshman girls to their rooms, discouraging putting girls from the same part of the world together. By placing the girls from different countries together, it encourages them to branch out and meet new people. But after their freshman year, girls have the option of choosing their roommates. Freshman, sophomore, and junior girls are generally placed three girls to each room, while seniors have earned the privilege of only having two girls to a room though, luckily for them, all rooms have their own bathrooms.
The old building also includes a vast dining hall as well as what Russell referred to as a “’50s-style diner.” Here the girls have the option of either eating food prepared by the school or cooking their own food.
Jane Chetty and LinhDan Pham are both current boarding school students in their senior year at FSHA. Chetty has attended since her freshman year and Pham since her sophomore year. Both girls attended international schools before deciding to study abroad in California. Pham, originally from Vietnam, speaks both English and Vietnamese, while Chetty, having been born in Japan and moved across Asia, speaks English, Japanese, two Indian languages, and is now nearly fluent in Spanish. This is just one example of how these girls embody the school’s idea of “well-rounded women.”
According to Russell, the school is very “girl-driven,” meaning the girls are not simply sent off to boarding school, but actively seek out boarding school to further their education.
“I was 12 years old when I decided I wanted to do this,” shared Chetty. “I knew then that I was never going to go back to living with my parents.”
This attitude shows the independence of these girls and how it has been nurtured by studying abroad.
Another benefit brought up by Chetty was that at an all-girls school, the opposite sex doesn’t get in the way of their personal development or self-esteem.
“I feel like most girls [here] don’t feel as insecure as they would in a co-ed school,” she said.
According to Pham, Chetty and Russell, most of the girls adapt pretty quickly to their surroundings, though some acclimate faster than others. Pham described freshman year as the most “dramatic year” for all the incoming boarding students.
“I didn’t talk for the first week, but then Jane and I became really good friends,” Pham explained. Chetty added that day students still don’t realize that she is a boarding student until it comes up in conversation, illustrating that the boarding girls aren’t treated any differently on campus.
But both girls agreed that there are girls who have too difficult a time their first year to continue.
“By sophomore or junior year, it really filters down to the girls who want to be here for themselves,” explained Chetty.
Besides the traditional learning environment, the boarding girls are also offered the opportunity to join in monthly trips to different places like Santa Monica or their latest trip to Disneyland.
Though the girls have just started their senior year, Pham and Chetty are already sure where they would like to attend college in California. Both plan to apply to all UC schools. While Pham is leaning towards studying pre-med, Chetty prefers psychology or the music business. Chetty also shared that she hopes to stay in the United States, preferably in California, after she graduates college, while Pham said that she’d prefer to go back to Vietnam.
Though the two are similar in many ways, their differences demonstrate the diversity in the girls who attend FSHA boarding school. Pham and Chetty said that they believe their independence, ability to think for themselves, and drive were brought out by studying abroad and believe they will be more successful because of their decision to do so.