FORT MILL -- Two Fort Mill elementary schools are looking to launch single-gender programs in which students would attend separate classes for boys and girls.
Last month, Gold Hill Elementary started a trial run with 46 fifth-graders and plans to expand it next school year. Springfield Elementary is considering adding a program; teachers are studying research about how boys and girls learn differently.
"We're just at the starting point," Gold Hill Principal Terry Brewer said. "We're trying to determine interest."
On March 5, David Chadwel, hired by State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex to travel the state promoting the program and training teachers, will be at Gold Hill Elementary at 6:30 p.m. to talk with parents about the program. The school plans to send students home with surveys to gauge parent interest. At least two mothers plan to sign up their children.
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"I think it's a great idea," Gold Hill Elementary parent Laura Lewis said. "I have a son and a daughter. I certainly see differences in how they read and listen."
"I would definitely be interested," said Rikke Gillespy, whose son and daughter attend Gold Hill Elementary. "I'm not for it because it's new, hip, 'Yeah let''s try this.' But if it helps the children learn, I'm all for it."
At Springfield, lead teacher Marion Cook organized a book study for colleagues interested in learning about single-gender education. Thirty-six teachers signed up.
"We had to break into three groups because it was so large," Cook said.
The Fort Mill schools join a surging number nationwide experimenting with single-sex classes, including Clover. Proponents say separating girls and boys removes distractions, helps students focus and lets teachers cater to inherent learning differences.
For example, research suggests that males learn better at cooler temperatures. Girls can sit still and focus longer but are prone to be distracted by noise and loud voices.
The trend follows federal legislation from 2006 that made it easier for schools to separate sexes. In 2002, 12 public schools in the U.S. offered single-sex classes, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. Today, the group counts more than 500.
South Carolina, with half the nation's single-gender programs, leads the pack. Rex made it the cornerstone of his push for public school choice.
York County's four school districts have been slower than others to adopt classes, but they're catching on.
This school year, Fort Mill Middle School added single-sex classes for sixth- and seventh-graders. York's Jefferson Elementary and India Hook Elementary in Rock Hill also have added classes. The Clover school district is looking into it.
The S.C. Department of Education last year released survey results from about 2,200 students, 181 parents and 178 teachers. Two-thirds of students said single-gender classes helped them; 75 percent of parents and 80 percent of teachers agreed.
Gold Hill Elementary teachers have been researching single-gender education for about two years, Brewer said. Organizers have yet to decide what the program will look like next year, but the school plans to offer co-ed and single-sex classes.
"It's not going to be right for everyone," Brewer said. "If we offer choice, we're hoping to meet the needs of more students."