When Mickey Loweree began searching for a middle school for her daughter Marlowe, she settled on a new all-girls academy opening in the El Paso Independent School District.
On Monday, the first day of school, a bus will take Marlowe to the Young Women's STEAM Research and Preparatory Academy. She will be part of the school's first class of sixth graders.
"It interested us because it was pioneering that new frontier of pushing girls to go into fields that are otherwise male-dominated," Loweree said.
The new science, technology, engineering, art and math focused campus brings the number of single-sex schools in the county to four — two public schools and two private. An all-boys school will also open next year in EPISD.
For decades, parochial schools were the only campuses in El Paso offering single-gender education. But as districts feel the pressure to retain students and compete against each other and an expected influx of charter schools, the options are opening up.
EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera said opening up single-gender schools in the district is part of a strategy to offer a wider variety of learning environments to students and parents.
"I think that for the next couple years as we continue to redesign schools and create more specific interest, I think the community will realize they can get everything they need at EPISD," Cabrera said.
In 2006, President George W. Bush enacted new rules that allowed public school districts to establish single-gender schools, as long as enrollment was voluntary.
In Texas, the number has been climbing steadily. Last year, the state had 223 single-gender schools, 23 more than in 2015, according to the Texas Education Agency.
On the border, on the rise
The anticipated growth of charter schools has some of El Paso's largest districts looking for ways to keep hold of students and the state funding that comes with them.
Last year, the Ysleta Independent School District opened its Young Women's Leadership Academy, the city's first public all-girls school with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.