Girard College at 170: Honoring Legacy and an Evolving Mission
Girard’s boarding school environment gives students more time to live in a community, grow relationships, and focus on Girard’s five core values: respect, responsibility, integrity, self-discipline, and compassion.
In 1848, Stephen Girard created a private boarding school in Philadelphia with an unprecedented endowment, seeking to help educate an underserved population. Girard was an immigrant, a merchant, and eventually one of the wealthiest people of his time. “He was nimble,” describes Dr. Heather Wathington, “he was able to use life skills to diagnose a situation and pivot.”
The distinction between accruing “knowledge”—which Dr. Wathington remarks is so readily accessible in a world where we can simply Google anything with the phone in our pockets—versus developing life skills is at the heart of Girard College’s mission. As the first through 12th grade boarding school’s new President, Dr. Wathington both honors this legacy, and has vision to move it forward for this generation’s unique challenges.
While Girard’s academic program remains rigorous, Dr. Wathington believes that it is even more important that students get a “holistic” education, and can “take what they know and be able to shift it for a very fast-changing world.”
Girard’s boarding school environment gives students more time to live in a community, grow relationships, and focus on Girard’s five core values: respect, responsibility, integrity, self-discipline, and compassion. While Girard students live in the 43-acre campus’ dorms five days a week, residential advisors help them to cultivate these important life skills and become exceptional citizens. “Children are growing and developing, and it’s our job as educators to give them the tools to act out those values. That is what our very unique campus model allows us to do,” Dr. Wathington explains.
As Girard has grown, so has the city; and Dr. Wathington sees in that growth, opportunities for community engagement. “As the neighborhood and place where we are begins to change, we’re also building partnerships that fortify what we are doing,” she describes. Through externships, for example, students are able to gain real world knowledge and experience in their chosen field by shadowing a local professional.
As always, Girard students receive full scholarships to take part in academic and residential life. Admission is based on very specific criteria—students must demonstrate academic excellence, and also come from a household with limited financial resources headed by a single parent or guardian.
Despite its long history, “families do not think that a school like Girard exists for them—that an independent school education can come with a full scholarship for each and every eligible student,” Dr. Wathington tells us. “We like to think of ourselves as an independent school option for families who would like something more for their children.”
Story by Laura Swartz. Photographs provided by Girard College. Girard College supports the Philly Family Community.