The Ethel Walker School has received a gift of $25 million from an anonymous donor from among its alumnae, the largest gift the school has received in its 111-year history. It is among the most generous gifts made to an all-girls school in the country. Funds will be directed toward the school’s endowment and capital projects.
“This gift is a statement about the confidence that this donor has in our school,” says Dr. Meera Viswanathan, head of the school. “This donor’s generous support allows us to grow our endowment significantly and assists us in undertaking transformative capital projects to enhance the experience of students and faculty, and the school’s already beautiful campus.” With a three-year strategic plan underway, and a campus master plan that focuses on sustainable use of existing buildings and enhanced outdoor spaces coupled with new construction, Walker’s will immediately be adding residence hall space, as housing for current students is at capacity.
“Under Meera’s leadership, Walker’s has undergone a metamorphosis,” says Katherine “Kit” O’Brien Rohn, chair of the school’s board of trustees and a 1982 graduate of the school. “Her vision of an all-girls school as the closest thing to a utopia has fueled a transformation of Walker’s. This gift supports our belief that girls can transcend and disrupt a gendered mindset by providing an environment that is specifically designed for girls where they can flourish and excel.” Sited on 175 acres, the school’s last major building project, The Centennial Center, opened in 2016. The Centennial Center includes an 8-lane pool, double gymnasium, dance studios, squash courts, and a health and wellness center.
Walker’s offers a rigorous curriculum with a range of advanced and honors courses in traditional disciplinary areas such as science, math, history, English, world languages, and the arts, including an Honors Biochemistry Research Seminar, Art of Memoir, and Multivariable Calculus as well as multi and interdisciplinary courses such as Colonialism and the Caribbean, Public Health, Inequality in the United States and experiential hands-on classes such as Video Studies, the Visiting Writing Seminar, and Equine Studies. The faculty, including new educators and well-tenured teachers, animate the coursework with discussion-based exploration and project-based learning. Currently, 88% of the faculty hold advanced degrees with an average class size of 12 students, and a 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
With the support of a prestigious Edward E. Ford Foundation Education Leadership Grant awarded in 2019, Walker’s signature Capabilities Approach Program seeks to disrupt the gendered mindset into which girls are socialized. The Capabilities Approach Program offers a different way of thinking about learning beyond the traditional curriculum with the capabilities representing a constellation of skills, interwoven and building on each other, with the end goal being a high functional mastery of each skill including financial, digital, and rhetorical fluencies. The goal is for students to realize they have the capacity to learn anything they choose in virtually any area. The acquisition of these capabilities helps students develop resiliency as they strive to achieve baseline proficiency in these areas, with some capabilities requiring greater stretching of limits than others as they bolster one another through the challenges. “At Walker’s, students are encouraged to collaborate and bolster one another over the hurdles providing support to each other as they achieve mastery,” said Viswanathan. “This means that the process, not just the result, will be a goal in itself, and our intention is that this model of learning will become the ‘Walker’s Way’ for acquiring new skills.”