How Laura Farrell is Leading Merion Mercy Academy Into its Future
With more than 25 years of experience in education, Laura Farrell came to Merion Mercy this year from St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, VA, one of the largest girls' schools in the country, where she served as the Dean of Faculty. She is the first Head of School who is not a Sister of Mercy – bringing change to a tradition that has existed since 1884.
Here, Farrell shares her plans to lead Merion Mercy Academy into the future while staying true to its roots and values.
You are the first lay Head of School, why do you think that is significant?
The Sisters of Mercy, with their compassion and care for each person, are beloved at Merion Mercy. Since their founding, they have been committed to serving people in need with ministries in housing, healthcare, social services and, most relevant to me, education. Around 2013, the Sisters realized that many of them would soon reach retirement age and fewer women were choosing consecrated religious life. They wanted their ministries to continue to thrive and began to empower laypeople to lead these ministries. And now, the Sisters are looking to me to lead Merion Mercy. With the Sisters as mentors, I am confident that the essence of the Mercy mission will never change. I find great excitement in taking Mercy values to the next generation of girls and discerning how to best serve their educational needs at a time when these needs are so pressing and immediate. This work is exciting, relevant and will chart Merion’s course into the next era.
How did your background prepare you to lead Merion Mercy?
My background prepared me in two key ways. I have a deep understanding of girls’ education, and I firmly believe girls’ schools serve as the best educational environment for young women. In a girls’ school, all resources are dedicated to girls, which allows their voices to be amplified. They learn self-efficacy and grow in a multitude of ways during times in their lives when they are likely to be bombarded with countless negative cultural images. They are also taught by and surrounded with role models who truly understand how they learn best. Having worked at a leading girls’ school in Virginia for the past 18 years, I bring a deep understanding of best practices to Merion Mercy that can help continue to build an intentional environment where girls thrive.
The other significant part about my background is that I came from a school committed to cutting-edge, 21stcentury innovation. No school today can afford to rest on its reputation or operate as it has in the past. Students today are different even from 5 or 10 years ago, and more than ever, they need programs and curricula that offer them the skills and challenges that will serve them well in the future. I have watched trends in both higher education and business and industry for many years. Schools need to use that information to develop innovative programming for students.
What about a Merion education prepares girls for their future?
Merion Mercy has a diverse and international student body with students that come from more than 100 different feeder schools. Our Mercy mission stresses global awareness and social responsibility and helps our students understand the world from multiple perspectives, which allows them to become better leaders, communicators and problem-solvers. When students leave Merion for college and beyond, they are prepared for success because they have strong analytical skills, a high degree of emotional intelligence, and a desire to serve others.
What makes Merion stand out as a girls school?
From the moment I stepped on campus I knew that Merion Mercy was a school that lived its mission authentically. Mercy values manifest in how the girls relate to each other and to their teachers, in the curricular focus on issues related to the environment and women and children, and in our focus on social responsibility and global leadership. At Merion, we have 450 girls growing in confidence and supported by a curriculum that is directed to preparing them to thrive in today’s world. It’s pretty remarkable to find a school where the school’s mission, vision, and purpose align so completely with what girls need to prepare them for success in the world.
What would you recommend as must reads for parents of teenage girls?
Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives by Rachel Simmons offers great practical advice showing how complex the lives of students are today.
Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour, Ph.D, is also a great guide to the behavior of teenage girls.
About Merion Mercy Academy
Merion Mercy Academy, an independent, Catholic, college preparatory school sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, offers a holistic education which encourages academic and personal excellence. Its curriculum stresses mercy spirituality, global awareness, and social responsibility. Within a nurturing community, Merion Mercy Academy educates leaders: young women who live mercy and seek justice. Learn more about Laura Farrell at http://www.merion-mercy.com/headofschool and http://www.merion-mercy.com/laurafarrell