Girls’ World
With a sweeping expansion and enhancements to its historic Rosemont campus, The Agnes Irwin School continues its rich tradition of preparing today’s girls to be tomorrow’s leaders
by Jenny Graham

One does not stay in a leadership position by sitting still. The leaders of The Agnes Irwin School realized this when they began planning the recent expansion to the institution’s historic Rosemont campus, where George Washington once lodged when the Lower School building served as a colonial inn. Renovations have added 85,000 square feet of space for facilities designed to enhance learning experiences for the approximately 700 girls attending Agnes Irwin’s upper, middle and lower schools.

A new Innovation Center, for example, focuses on students working to develop STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) skills, with a great deal of learning focused on cross-curricular teaching. The school also features a new Student Life Center, which is not only suited for student dining but is also outfitted with audio visual equipment so the space can be used for presentations. In addition, the school now boasts a 3-D printer, an innovative piece of technology used to craft prototypes from student engineering designs. One student, for example, recently created a coin bank for a nonprofit group with whom she was working.

Athletic facilities have also been greatly enhanced. Students can now enjoy a brand-new 55,000-square-foot gymnasium featuring basketball and volleyball courts, as well as other state-of-the-art facilities. The new three-story building, which is at the disposal of all students, from prekindergarten through 12th grade, features great amenities such as a multipurpose/fitness room where classes such as cardio-kickboxing, yoga and Zumba are offered to students and staff alike; a rowing center with a crew tank that seats 10, as well as eight ergometers for training; four new squash courts; and a gymnasium that seats 600.

“We offer 13 varsity-level sports that will be benefit from our new facilities, and the entire AIS community will be given access to a broad range of activities,” says Sheila Pauley, athletic director at Agnes Irwin. “It has been both exciting and rewarding to see the students and faculty begin to utilize the all of the amenities, not just the athletic spaces. The students have really taken advantage of the space both athletically and socially,” adding that she has seen students studying or doing homework in spots all over the facility.

“The opportunities that we can now give all the girls, not just the student athletes, is very important in bringing everyone together,” she continues. “There is a brand-new artificial turf field, which all grades are using for PE class. The brand-new fitness center overlooks the turf field, which allows you to get a workout in while possibly watching a game.”

Agnes Irwin aims to earn a silver LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification for its new designs, too. Several of the newly constructed areas on campus feature “green” roofs and energy-saving mechanisms such as windows that open automatically to help adjust temperature, as well as runoff water-diverting “rain chains” and solar panels.

New facilities aren’t the only recent changes benefiting Agnes Irwin students. The school has also been working to strengthen girls’ minds and balance their busy lives, as well as shape the world in which they will one day lead.

At the school’s Center for the Advancement of Girls, led by director of academic affairs Mariandl Hufford, faculty members work to identify trends in girls’ education and development in order to continually hone students’ skills. Through research, programming and community outreach, the center focuses on four areas of female development, also known as its four “pillars” of study: leadership, wellness, global citizenship and teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Addressing the most critical aspects of girls’ development helps the school choose community partners, according to Hufford. One such partner, Drexel University, will conduct a longitudinal study on Agnes Irwin’s campus funded by the National Science Foundation that aims to keep girls interested in STEM-driven fields. In addition, she is particularly proud of a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing, which has resulted in Agnes Irwin’s ability to offer an elective course to seniors on female global health issues, co-taught by Agnes Irwin and Penn faculty.

“I deeply believe that we must have a comprehensive understanding of the landscape, in our own country and across the globe, in which girls are growing up,” she says. “This landscape helps us understand the opportunities and the challenges that girls face. How do we embrace the opportunities and how do we help girls face those challenges? That is at the core of our work. Some of that is done through research; some of it is done through building relationships with outside people and institutions.

“The center provides a built-in infrastructure to bring new programs and partnerships to our girls,” she continues. “Schools typically don’t have a dedicated staff that explores partnerships and opportunities in the way that we are able to do.” Other partners include Invest in Girls, a Boston-based nonprofit financial literacy advocacy group; Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University and Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, which has helped AIS develop a leadership curriculum for the Lower School.

Sophomore Sophia Lindner, now in her sixth year at Agnes Irwin, has taken full advantage of the richness of programs available at the school. She is an active member of a number of school organizations, including the volleyball team, the track team and the Bel Cantos a cappella group. She also participates in musicals, stage crew and Dance Motion, an annual spring show. With all the recent enhancements to the Agnes Irwin campus, she is excited about the prospect of pursuing even more self-enrichment opportunities.

“I think that, especially for those of us who used the old facilities in Lower and Middle Schools, the campus improvements have been some of the reasons why this school year has been one of the best yet,” she says. “I remember exploring the building on the first day and not even being able to believe that it was ours to use for the rest of the year.”

Surely, founder Agnes Irwin, great-great granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin and the first dean of Radcliffe College, would be proud to see the current administration and faculty carrying on the mission upon which the school was founded in 1869—to help girls such as Lindner continue to learn and grow into the educated, well-rounded leaders of tomorrow.

The Agnes Irwin School
Ithan Ave. and Conestoga Road
Rosemont, PA 19010
610-525-8400 | |