September 25, 2008

Pilot Program is Passing Test Same-Sex Classes Earn High Marks at Glenwood

By JOHN MARTIN Courier & Press staff writer 464-7594 or [email protected]

The more Glenwood Middle School teachers and staff learned about same-sex classes, the more interested they became.

They decided to try the concept this year, with one boys-only class and one girls-only class in Grades 6 through 8. Other classes remain coed.

Glenwood likes the pilot program's results so far.

Officials say students in gender-specific classes have seemed more on task and less interested in making impressions.

"We really think this may be the way to go," Principal Sheila Huff said. "It's too early to tell, but teachers are encouraged by it."

Teachers are noticing more verbal response from students of both genders, but especially from the guys.

"They seem more engaged in their work than they were before," Huff said. "The teachers don't see as much clowning, as much showing off."

In girls-only classes, students have been less shy about raising their hands.

"They tend to interact with the teachers

more and aren't as afraid to express themselves," said Mark Jorgensen, a science teacher.

Students in the same-gender classes said they are getting used to not having opposite-sex peers around during class time.

There's still time for chit-chat in the lunchroom and after school, they noted.

"I like that most of the boys aren't really worried about girls, and you can get your work done," eighth-grader Michael Barnes said.

Tyrone Morris, also in eighth grade, said he misses having girls in class. But he conceded the school's experiment "is going all right, so far."

Huff said the concept isn't for everyone, although in recent years same-sex classes have become more popular nationally as schools look for ways to meet No Child Left Behind mandates.

During the summer, Glenwood's staff spoke to teachers at schools in Indianapolis and Houston that use the same-sex strategy.

The demographics at those schools were similar to Glenwood, where nine of 10 students qualify for free or reduced price lunches and single-parent households are not unusual.

Having either just boys or girls in a class allows teachers and students to "hold a different kind of class discussion, speak more freely about things," said Kamilah Payne, a reading and English teacher.

The concept also can allow literature teachers, if they choose, to use reading materials that are of more interest to one gender or the other, Payne said.

Ryan Merriwether, a Glenwood math teacher who played football at Indiana State University, said having only boys in a class presents opportunities that don't come up as often in other classes.

"It's very obvious that they are yearning for that male leadership role," Merriwether said. "A lot of them have questions (that don't deal with math). A lot of them want to be athletes someday, and I tell them about the discipline that's necessary. I serve as a platform for them to be able to get answers to those questions.

"A lot of them comment about how I dress on a daily basis," said Merriwether, who last week sported khaki pants and a colorful button- down shirt. "I tell them that I'm expected to look a certain way.

"My No. 1 objective here is to teach them to be better young men when they leave. When they are ready to learn the math, they will learn it."

The Department of Education loosened restrictions two years ago on single-gender classes, and in several large cities, school systems are trying them at some level. New York City has nine same- sex public schools.

The concept has supporters and critics in education circles.

Some critics compare separating boys and girls to classrooms in the segregation era, while others say gender-specific classes are an illusionary silver bullet that doesn't address real problems in education.

Whether the concept is expanded in more local public schools depends on the wishes of the schools, said Marsha Jackson, director of communications for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp.

EVSC administrators are not encouraging or discouraging schools from having single-gender classes, said Jackson, adding that the school corporation takes a similar view on uniform-style dress codes.

Glenwood, Evans and Harwood middle schools are entering their third school year of uniforms.

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