On weekday mornings, teenage girls from ten nations walk across the pedestrian bridge elevated above Saint Katherine Drive as they make their way toward the steps ascending to their college preparatory high school on the hill: Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in La Ca√±ada. There, the 56 boarding students join 355 “day students” heading to classes at the only all-girls’ Catholic day and boarding school in Southern California, established 81 years ago by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose.Opened on Sept. 2, 1931 exclusively as a boarding school for elementary and secondary students, it began accepting day students in 1954 and phased out the elementary grades to become a high school. It has attracted international boarding students from its inception.“The gift today of this amazing program is that, in a world that grows smaller each day, and as national boundaries are fading into each other, these girls have the opportunity to meet and become friends, and study and learn about life and their cultures together,” observed Dominican Sister Carolyn McCormack, FSHA president.And, when the boarders cross the bridge after school back to their rooms in a wing of the administration building, they share their home-away-from-home with the Dominican Sisters, whose convent is in another section of the mission-style edifice first built in the late ’20s as a luxury hotel by Senator Frank P. Flint. When the hotel didn’t survive the onset of the Great Depression, the Dominican Sisters bought the entire resort — including nine original buildings, hotel furnishings and surrounding land — at auction for $150,000.“I don’t think there’s any boarding school today where kids go to school and live with ten Sisters,” smiled Sister McCormack. “Living with these young women, the Sisters have the opportunity to eat in the same dining room and pass each other in the halls on the weekends and in the evenings. There’s a lovely rapport that grows with our girls — and when the girls are not here, it’s quiet and lonely.“I think one of the signatures of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy that we see when the girls graduate is this confidence that they have,” she added. “They have found their voice, they have been well prepared and they step out of high school into upper education in universities and colleges around the world.” A global perspective“We’re very proud of the women we turn out,” said Catherine O’Brien, associate director of admissions who attended a Catholic all-girls’ school in England. “The international students have a positive effect on the day students.”“The beauty of the boarding students is they bring a different flavor to the classroom in some ways,” said Leslie Miller, who has taught chemistry and physics at FSHA for seven years. “Some of the students are incredibly industrious and have a lot of perseverance when they’re learning.”All international students whose first language is not English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language as their entrance exam to FSHA, to make sure they can learn alongside native English speakers.“What might be obvious for an English learner is not obvious for them because they’re struggling with the words you’re saying,” explained Miller. “So I think it makes me a better teacher because you have to be much more thoughtful about your word choice.” She noted that the boarding students bring a global perspective to classroom discussions, such as first-hand experience from the Chinese students of what the one-baby policy is like in China. “I think it brings a lot of awareness to all our students,” said Miller. FSHA’s international student boarders this year hail from Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States. Recent years have also seen boarders from Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Nigeria, Peru, Saudi Arabia and Spain.“When the school first opened, it had a really wide variety of girls [from the local region and beyond] — there weren’t as many internationals as you would have thought in the very beginning,” said Martha Lem, director of boarding students. Early on, she noted, the school had a lot of boarders from South America, followed by many from Mexico, and then a surge of girls from Asia. “It just depends on which country’s economy is really opening up,” noted Lem. “Right now, China is really flourishing and we’re looking into South America, because that’s really beginning to give China some competition.” Lem regards the residence halls made up of 23 rooms on two floors as “holy ground,” where nearly 100 Dominican Sisters have walked the floors since the school opened to educate young women and prepare them for an integrated life of study, prayer, service and community, predicated on the Dominican motto of “Veritas” (truth).When the boarders first arrive at FSHA, there’s a bit of an adjustment period, according to Lem. “The girls come with the attitude that they’re going to be independent, and then they get here and they see it’s much like home,” she said. “It’s going to be controlled, there are study halls and they still have adults looking over them. Rules are sometimes hard to get used to, and we keep explaining that this is a boarding program [with adults supervising] 50-60 students.”Lem comes in on Sunday night and sleeps in one of the spacious boarding rooms until she leaves the residence on Friday afternoons. She watches over the boarders with motherly concern, caring for the teenagers when they are sick and corresponding with their parents. “It’s taking care of them 24/7,” Lem noted. And yet, she added, “I think when they leave is when they realize just how great it was here.”“It’s quite remarkable how mature and self-sufficient the students become in four years,” said Lisa Bruchey, director of marketing and communications and former FSHA day student who attended the high school in the ’80s. She noted that boarders living away from home have to do their own laundry, become adept at time management and learn to handle personal finances, such as paying their cell phone and credit card bills and balancing their checkbooks.“The key, I think, is that the Sisters have made [an environment] where it feels like it’s your own journey,” noted Luana Castellano, director of admissions. “Whether it’s sometimes a little bumpy or a little challenging, it’s very caring and nurturing in terms of feeling like you can be safe. “The students are growing and changing, and these are the surroundings in which to do that, to experiment, to be able to try new things and to go forward with their own personal growth. The empowerment of that within their own experience is important.”‘Everybody helps each other’“I wanted to go to boarding school and my parents said it had to be ‘all-girls’ and ‘Catholic,’” said sophomore Jane Chetty, born in Japan to Catholic parents from India who currently reside in Hong Kong. “We basically just Googled [those key words] and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy was one of the first schools that came up.“I really like the close community,” said Chetty, who started at FSHA as a ninth grader. “Being together with so many girls, it makes me feel really comfortable. I know that I don’t have to be anyone else than who I am. I can really fulfill all my potential here — at school, with the teachers and my friends, who really encourage me to do my best. The boarding house keeps me really grounded and focused, so that’s really good as well.”Nayoon Kim, a junior from Korea who started as a ninth grader, said her mom and her aunt, who lives in La Ca√±ada, looked around for a boarding school for international students and were happy to find FSHA’s 41-acre campus in the nearby San Rafael Hills overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and the Pasadena Rose Bowl.“When I first came here, I was really excited,” said Kim. “I missed Korea and my family, but later, I didn’t really feel lonely. Friends, teachers and Mrs. Lem helped me get along with other people and feel familiar with school and the culture.”Having been exposed to U.S. culture mainly through movies like “Mean Girls” and TV shows like “Glee,” Kim said she expected that the American students would be on the hyper side, dancing and singing even at school.“But after I came here, everyone was so smart and worked so hard, so I was really surprised,” said Kim.Dacia Patino, a sophomore student from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in her first year at FSHA, said she likes everything about the high school, though the school day is longer and the classes are harder than in her previous hometown school. Her mother attended FSHA and wanted her daughter to enroll, “because she thought it would be a great experience,” said Patino.Margaret Lee, a senior from Taiwan who, as the newly-elected ASB treasurer, is the first boarder ever to be elected to school-wide office, said her parents looked through books of boarding schools and liked the idea of an all-girls’ school.“Generally, I didn’t really like the idea because I had never gone to an all-girls’ school in my life, but once I came here I really loved the community,” said Lee. “Everybody helps each other. Instead of just competing with each other, it feels like we’re all striving for success. Instead of individual success, it’s more like group success. Of course, we each have to study and we each have to maintain our grades, but everybody helps each other out.”Lee says she gets a lot more opportunities to do extracurricular activities, such as sports, which are not available to her friends in Taiwan, where school is 100 percent academics.“Here I get to do sports. I get to swim and play water polo. I think it’s more beneficial. It also takes off a lot of my stress from school work,” said Lee, who has also participated on FSHA’s decathlon team. She plans to attend college in the U.S. (as do many of the boarders), hopes to major in biology and, with her background in two cultures, would like to study international relations. Andrea Arellano, a senior who transferred from her local public high school in Oakdale (in central California), said when the idea popped into her family’s head to send her away for better educational opportunities, FSHA, in Southern California where her family lived when she was a baby, seemed like the obvious choice.“The school has a great sense of community, which is something really incredible and very different from my old school,” said Arellano. “It’s a tight sisterhood and it’s a great community of people who are all supporting each other and are all willing to help each other and be there for anything, really.”Being away from her family “has been a challenge,” she admitted. “It’s not like you can just go home and have Dad help you with your homework, and you can’t just run down the street to pick up stuff, but for the most part it’s been all right. I will definitely have life-long friends, both from the residence hall and up here at the high school.” Over Thanksgiving break, Arellano visited her roommate from last year, who lives in Cabo San Lucas.“This is a very different boarding school, being that the majority of the students are day students and most boarding schools are the other way around with the majority of the students living on campus,” commented Arellano. “It does provide a very different atmosphere, a very different experience, but it’s a great thing to be one part of the school community and secondly, a part of the boarding community, where 50 girls get to live with each other and your best friend lives next door.”Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy will hold an open house Jan. 13, noon-2:30 p.m. Information: (626) 685-8300 or www.fsha.org. —January 11, 2013{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0111/sffsha/{/gallery}