Date of Award

Summer July 2008

Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Emily Arms

Second Advisor

Elizabeth A. Stoddard

Third Advisor

Martin T. Connell, S.J.


The purpose of this study was to research student perspectives about, and participation in, leadership and service at Catholic female single-sex high schools. This study draws data from a Catholic female single-sex high school in a metropolitan area of the United States. Data collection included school document review, site observation, and interviews of current students (n=10), young alumnae (n=5), mature alumnae (n=5), and current faculty and staff (n=6). The data was analyzed using an adapted theoretical framework of Wenger's (1998) social theory of learning, informed by Lave and Wenger's (1991) concept of communities of practice. This study addresses how the situated experience of the Catholic female single-sex high school affects students' expectations, values, and behaviors regarding leadership and service. The data show that the situated experience of a Catholic female single-sex high school encouraged engagement and interest in leadership and service. Students were empowered to believe that gender should not be an obstacle in seeking positions of leadership or service. However, although the environment was successful in advocating for participation in leadership and service, the social structure, social practices, identity formation, and situated environment tended to reinforce traditional gender-based notions of leadership and service. The culture of the school did not encourage the use of a critical lens to view the inequity that women experience, resulting in student expectations, behaviors, and values that were reproduced from the dominant culture in society. Student relationship to community and Catholicity is also discussed. In order to achieve the benefits of female empowerment advocated by the school, greater emphasis should be placed on identifying and addressing the obstacles to female leadership and service in society at large. There should be continued research to identify effective strategies for empowering female students to participate in leadership and service opportunities in high school, while providing them with a clearer sense of the challenges they will face in leadership and service positions later in life. In this way, the mission of Catholic female single-sex high schools can be more fully realized, which will hasten the day when true gender equity is achieved in the broader social context.