Hearts and Minds
Bryn Mawr's Country Day School of the Sacred Heart creates self-assured young women
by Bill Donahue


Now a freshman at the University of Delaware, Samantha Dugan is working toward her dream of one day becoming an English teacher. If you ask her mother, Joyce, Samantha’s love of English—not to mention the seamless transition from high school to college—stems from 12 years of schooling at Bryn Mawr’s Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, an independent Catholic preparatory school for girls, pre-kindergarten through grade 12. 


“Samantha was totally prepared for college-level academics, but she also has a wonderful outlook on life,” says Joyce, whose other daughter, Celine, is a ninth grader at Sacred Heart. “Sacred Heart challenges the girls academically, but what really the sets the school apart is beyond academics; you feel warmth, caring and total respect the moment you walk through those red doors.


“It’s a fabulous school—academically, socially, spiritually. What I wanted for my two girls was a top-quality education in an environment that would prepare them for what the world offers, and they’ve both become strong, confident women.”


Located on 16 acres in the heart of Bryn Mawr, Sacred Heart offers a wealth of academic, competitive-sports and arts programs designed to help students grow as they prepare for the next phase of their education. The school was founded in 1865 by the Religious of the Sacred Heart and has been lay-owned and governed since 1969. As a member of the Network of Sacred Heart Schools, Sacred Heart is committed to providing students with a challenging intellectual environment, while helping them develop a love of God and cultivate the desire to help others.


Betsy Dougert, a Sacred Heart alumna who has since become the school’s communications coordinator, believes Sacred Heart’s greatest strength is the individualized attention it provides to every student.


“Class sizes are small, and the teachers, parents and students know each other well,” she says. “Each girl is valued for her own unique talents and strengths. Sacred Heart is also focused on educating each girl as a whole. … Teachers aren’t just there for the sake of academics; they also serve as role models as the girls develop integrity, compassion for others and a sense of humor.”


Students are particularly prepared for college and beyond when it comes to technology. Currently, Sacred Heart is in the early phase of implementing an integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, and all students take computer classes on both Mac and PC platforms. By the second grade, students have learned to piece together a PowerPoint presentation and manipulate basic digital images. By graduation the girls are proficient in everything from Microsoft Office to basic website development and desktop publishing software. All teachers have iPads and, within the next couple of years, all of the older students will have them as well.


“Sacred Heart girls are ready to take on the world,” says Dougert. “They know that they can accomplish anything they want, if they are willing to work for it. In addition to the academic, athletic, musical and moral education they can always fall back on, the international Network of Sacred Heart schools ensures that each girl will always be welcome in any of [the other Sacred Heart schools in] 44 countries around the globe.”


Middle and Upper School girls at Sacred Heart can take advantage of domestic and international study-abroad opportunities at Sacred Heart schools. Students can also benefit from other unique experiences, such as the program at a working dairy farm, Sprout Creek in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., designed to heighten students’ social and environmental awareness. There, students participate in typical farm chores such as milking cows and shearing sheep, but also take the time to reflect on their lives and consider their impact on the environment.


Sacred Heart students also participate in spiritual retreats and required service projects, such as working in the Chicago penal system or a soup kitchen in New York City, which have the potential to change a student’s perspective. Joyce Dugan says her daughter Samantha experienced a “life altering” Appalachia trip, through which she and some fellow Sacred Heart students helped build homes for less-fortunate residents of West Virginia. “She was able to go ahead and help others with her own hands and see that the rest of the world is not necessarily like we are here,” says Joyce. “For her it was a wonderful experience.”


Commitment to Excellence

Of course, Sacred Heart boasts a strong academic record. One-hundred percent of Sacred Heart students graduate to a four-year college, and 95 percent graduate within four years, according to head of school Sister Matthew Anita MacDonald.


“We help each young woman to achieve her goals in the classroom and in her extracurricular activities,” says Kerri Schuster, who has been teaching English at Sacred Heart’s Upper School for 12 years. “Madeleine Sophie Barat, who started the Society of the Sacred Heart, said that she would have founded the order ‘for the sake of one child.’ I believe the students are aware that we each work our hardest ‘for the sake of one child.’


“There is a great deal of trust in the teachers to teach what they feel is best, to approach their lessons in the most effective way possible and to maintain a rigorous academic standard. I’m not sure I would find that at other schools.”


Thanks in part to Sacred Heart’s student-to-teacher ratio of 7:1, students excel in the classroom; average SAT scores are 600 for reading, 580 for math, and 610 for writing. Similar to the integrated STEM program, an Integrated Humanities curriculum presents the literature, history, music and art history of a specific period in a progressive yet highly effective way.


“History and literature do not happen independently of one another,” Schuster says. “Once students see the connections between what they are learning in history and what they are studying in literature, they have a deeper and longer-lasting understanding of the material. … I am thrilled when we discuss a piece of literature and, without my prompting, students say, ‘This is just like what we learned in history!’ I love watching as they make the connections on their own.”


In short, Sacred Heart helps young women acquire the leadership and life skills needed to make a difference in the world.


“My goal for every student here is to have them recognize that they need to bring compassion to the world, and I want them to have developed a love of learning,” says MacDonald. “I want them to recognize that they are responsible for their brothers and sisters, and work toward changing the things that keep people in poverty.”


For her part, Joyce Dugan has watched her daughters grow and evolve while at Sacred Heart—through academics, community involvement and extracurricular activities such as choir and sports—but her family’s affiliation with the school has left an indelible mark on her as well.


“My goal was to have my girls well educated, and that has certainly been the case,” says Dugan, who has supported the school by co-chairing fundraisers and other special events. “But I’ve met some of my best friends in the whole world there—and these are relationships I’ll have forever. I don’t know I would have gotten that at another school.”


Country Day School of the Sacred Heart

480 S. Bryn Mawr Ave. 

Bryn Mawr PA 19010

Phone: 610-527-3915

Web: www.cdssh.org


Saturday, February 4

Open House (Pre-K to 12)

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Sixth Grade Scholarship Exam

9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.