BRONZEVILLE — For the first time in the history of Hales Franciscan High School, girls arrived for classes Monday morning, the start of a new era at the South Side institution.
Classes started Monday with 10 girls, and "hopefully, more are on the way," Principal Erica Brownfield said.
In July, the school's Board of Trustees voted to allow the historically all-boys Catholic school to open its doors to girls for the first time since its 1962 inception.
Freshman Jaylyn Cunningham said she is glad the school went coed.
"I wanted to make history by being part of their first graduation class with girls. That's why I decided to attend Hales," said Cunningham, a 13-year-old South Shore resident who aspires to become a lawyer. "Am I nervous about attending school with mostly boys? You bet I am, but girls have broken glass ceilings before, and that is what I am doing today."
Brownfield said admission applications still are being accepted for girls and boys.
"Most schools allow enrollment up until the first two weeks of school, and we are no different," Brownfield added. "I anticipate more girls coming to Hales this school year."
Lydia Wolfe said she transferred to Hales from the University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus to get a better education.
"The university was OK, but I hear Hales is a good school, so I thought I'd try it out," said the 15-year-old sophomore, who lives in Hyde Park. "It's nice knowing that three years from now I will be able to tell other girls who attend Hales that I was here on the first day the school went coed."
Her father, Marcus Wolfe, added that while he is concerned about Lydia attending a school with more than 100 boys, he knows his daughter can take care of herself.
"She knows martial arts. They don't want to mess with her," he said.
Ashanti Jones, 15 and her cousin Ladasha Johnson, 15, are also among the students attending Hales for the first time. The Bronzeville residents said academics drew them to Hales.
"I want to go to college, and I need a school to prepare me for college," Jones said. "And Hales is as good as it gets."
Bonita Parr, Jones' mother, said she tried to get her daughter into King College Preparatory High School, a selective-enrollment school in Kenwood, but was unsuccessful.
"That's how she ended up at Ace Technical Charter High School [in Bronzeville]," Parr said. "There are not a lot of good schools in Bronzeville besides King. Hales going coed was right up my alley."
Johnson, who attended Proviso West High School last year, added she's happy to be attending Hales, a school she said is known for preparing kids for college.
"I don't want to be one of these students headed off to college but can't write a complete sentence or speak clearly," Johnson said. "I want to be the opposite, and not only get into college, but to actually graduate, too."
Boys attending Hales said they were mixed about having their "space" invaded by girls.
"Having girls here could be good and bad," said Alfred Lott, a 15-year-old sophomore. "Girls can be a distraction in the classroom. But then again sitting in school all day looking at guys is not thrilling either."
And Chris Swan, 15, added, "We'll have to see how the day goes. Then I will know if it will be a long school year or not."