Madeira School's Co-Curriculum Program Celebrates 50 Years

Summer 2015

When Headmistress Barbara Keyser launched Madeira School’s (Virginia) co-curriculum program in 1965, she first had to persuade faculty that a radical reframing of the curriculum would produce a signature program to redefine a Madeira education for future generations. If the faculty could have previewed the future and seen the impact of the program today, the conversation would have ended quickly with enthusiastic support.

The co-curriculum program, which won the NAIS Leading Edge Award in 2003, will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary. More important, the uniqueness of the program is repeatedly acknowledged. Alumnae and current students regularly express how empowering and enlightening their internship placements proved. At a time when conversations around the globe explore how to uplift women and girls, program director André Withers feels that Madeira is leading the way for other schools to implement high-impact experiential programming for girls.

In 2014-15, Madeira juniors worked in 41 Congressional offices. Seniors pursued internships in numerous organizations including Bethesda Naval Hospital, New York University Department of Psychology, Folger Shakespeare Theater, and U.S. Geological Service. The sophomores focused on service, volunteering with national nonprofits, and several local elementary schools.

“We do two powerful things for adolescent girls, which go beyond extending learning outside the classroom,” Withers explains. First, Madeira focuses on skills and issue areas that allow girls to see the connection between their intern­ships and high school learning. Second, the school provides concentrated time for in-depth engagement. For example, a typical day for a Madeira internship is 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for five consecutive weeks. The school’s modular schedule builds in time, intentionally designed not to compete with students’ other classes.

At the conclusion of the five-week internship module, each student prepares a capstone project that mirrors a college-level assessment.

The inter­section of the real world and academia is crucial. “As we see the daily actions of our girls and hear from our hundreds of alumnae,” says Head of School Pilar Cabeza de Vaca, “we can see that what we’re doing is truly transformative. The co-curriculum­ program is clearly equipping our students to graduate with solid developmental grounding, an early introduction into career possibilities, and a firsthand understanding of local and global issues.”