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After 128 Years, De La Salle Catholic High School Going Co-Ed

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A 128-year old Catholic high school in Chicago has decided to mix things up for the new school year by going co-ed for the first time.

When De La Salle Institute first opened in 1889, it was a three-year business school for students coming out of the nearby meat-packing industry. At the time it was only for young men.

For the past 15 years, De La Salle has been "co-institutional," with both boys and girls attending the school, but on different campuses more than a mile apart; boys at the main campus at 35th and Michigan, and girls in another building at 32nd and Aberdeen.

Even when the young men and women had coed clubs and activities, meetings were at the main campus on Michigan Avenue, so the young women would have to be transported there.

"It's very difficult to keep a sense of community going when you're separated for part of the day," principal Diane Brown said.

Brown said going coed "is going to give us a truer sense of community."

De La Salle Co-Ed
De La Salle Institute president Fr. Paul Novak, senior Brandy Wayne, senior Dakota Biliskov and principal Diane Brown. (Credit: Bernie Tafoya/WBBM)

Freshmen started the new school year on Thursday; while sophomores, juniors and seniors were scheduled to start classes on Monday.

Brandy Wayne, a senior who heads student government as the "Mayor of De La Salle," said she's excited for the first day of class. She said the few coed experiences available to students in the last year have been good ones.

"When both the girls and boys came together, we did have more ideas. The gals, the girls, they weren't shy at all. We brought our ideas," she said.

Wayne said she's also looking forward to having all of her favorite teachers in the same building.

"Our diversity, our community, our spirit here is very vibrant. When you come to De La Salle, you're already like at home," she said.

Fellow senior Dakota Biliskov said people might be a little shy and nervous the first few weeks in a co-ed environment, but he believes school spirit will go "way through the roof."

"There's going to be a lot of changes, but I think that the boys will treat the women correct, and the women will treat the men correct, because that's just how it's going to go, and we're all going to work together, and get through it, and it's going to be a great experience," he said.

De La Salle president Fr. Paul Novak said he believes going fully co-ed will lead to higher enrollment. Currently, there are 920 students enrolled.

"The indicators from our last entrance exam told us that we were able to test 100 more students that found co-education more attractive," he said.

Novak said the projection is the school can be built to an enrollment of 1,200.

In a survey of the parents of students and potential students a few years ago, areas such as academics, faith formation and technology rated as the most attractive features, according to Novak. The school not being coed was not as attractive.

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